Palestine Authority Mahmoud Abbas condemned anti-Semitism and apologized to Jewish people offended by his speech earlier this week in which he blamed Jews’ “social function” for the Holocaust, rather than anti-Semitism.
“If people were offended by my statement in front of the [Palestinian National Council], especially people of the Jewish faith, I apologize to them,” Abbas said in a statement from his office. The statement was also broadcast on Palestinian television.
“I would like to assure everyone that it was not my intention to do so, and to reiterate my full respect for the Jewish faith, as well as other monotheistic faiths,” he said.
Abbas, who has long been accused of Holocaust denial for his doctoral thesis claiming secret ties between Zionists and the Nazis, also condemned the Holocaust “as the most heinous crime in history.”
“Likewise, we condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms, and confirm our commitment to the two-state solution, and to live side by side in peace and security,” he said.
Abbas had been castigated by Israel and much of the international community including the United Nations, following a speech on Monday in which he claimed the Holocaust was the result of Jews’ own behavior.
During a lengthy speech Monday in front of hundreds at a rare session of the Palestinian National Council in Ramallah, the 82-year-old PA leader alleged that the Holocaust was not caused by anti-Semitism, but rather by Jews’ “social behavior, [charging] interest and financial matters.”
Abbas’s speech has been criticized as anti-Semitic by various political figures in Israel, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, the European Union and Germany, among others. The New York Times called for Abbas’s resignation in an editorial Wednesday.
The incendiary content of Abbas’s speech, which was reported by The Times of Israel late Monday night, was not included in the official Palestinian news agency’s English press release about his address or in most initial international coverage of it.
Prior to his apology Friday, his senior aide Saeb Erekat sought to claim his words had been distorted by Israel.
Netanyahu said after the speech that “apparently a Holocaust-denier remains a Holocaust-denier,” alluding to Abbas’s doctoral dissertation, and called on the international community to condemn the speech and its expression of an anti-Semitism “whose time has come to disappear off the face of the earth.”
Abbas touched on a number of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories during what he called a “history lesson,” as he sought to prove the 3,000-year-old Jewish connection to the Land of Israel is false.
He said, “Their narrative about coming to this country because of their longing for Zion, or whatever — we’re tired of hearing this. The truth is that this is a colonialist enterprise, aimed at planting a foreign body in this region.”
“Those who sought a Jewish state weren’t Jews,” Abbas said, repeating a claim he made in January when he said that the State of Israel was formed as “a colonial project that has nothing to do with Judaism” to safeguard European interests.
“From the 11th century until the Holocaust that took place in Germany, those Jews — who moved to Western and Eastern Europe — were subjected to a massacre every 10 to 15 years,” he said. “But why did this happen? They say ‘it is because we are Jews.’”
The “proof” that it was not because they were Jews, he asserted, “is that there were Jews in Arab countries. Why wasn’t there ever one incident against Jews because they’re Jews?” he asked. “Not even once. Do you think I’m exaggerating? I challenge you [to find] even one indecent act against Jews in over 1,400 years — because they were Jews in Arab lands.”
The Palestinian leader has a history of Holocaust denial. His 1982 doctoral dissertation was titled “The Other Side: the Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism,” and he has in the past been accused of denying the scope of the Holocaust. The dissertation reportedly claimed that the six million figure of Holocaust victims was hugely exaggerated and that Zionist leaders cooperated with the Nazis.
Raphael Ahren and AFP contributed to this report.