BERLIN — Berlin police have opened a preliminary investigation against Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas over his comments this week that Israel has committed “50 holocausts” against Palestinians.
The remarks, during a news conference in Berlin alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, sparked outrage in Germany, Israel and beyond.
Police confirmed a report Friday by German daily Bild that Abbas was being investigated for possible incitement to hatred after receiving a formal criminal complaint. Downplaying the Holocaust is a criminal offense in Germany, but the opening of a preliminary inquiry doesn’t automatically entail a full investigation.
Germany’s Foreign Ministry said that Abbas — as a representative of the Palestinian Authority — would enjoy immunity from prosecution because he was visiting the country in an official capacity.
Germany doesn’t recognize the Palestinian Territories as a sovereign state, a position Scholz reaffirmed Tuesday.
Scholz on Thursday in a phone call with Prime Minister Yair Lapid condemned the inflammatory comments made by Abbas.
Scholz told Lapid that it was important for him to personally emphasize to the prime minister his condemnation of Abbas’s claims.
“Keeping alive the memory of the civilizational rupture of the Shoah is an everlasting responsibility of this and every German government,” said Scholz, according to Berlin’s readout of the conversation.
On Wednesday, Scholz said he was “disgusted” by the remarks, after enduring criticism by local media for not immediately countering Abbas’s remarks, which the latter made as the two leaders stood side by side during a Berlin press conference the night before. Though Scholz seemed pained as Abbas spoke, he did not speak up.
During their phone call, Lapid thanked the German leader, saying he was speaking both as Israel’s premier and as the son of a Holocaust survivor, according to a statement released by Lapid’s office.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Abbas was responding to a reporter’s question about the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Munich massacre. Eleven Israeli athletes and a German police officer died when members of the Palestinian terror group Black September took hostages at the Olympic Village on September 5, 1972. At the time of the attack, the group was linked to Abbas’s Fatah party.
Asked whether as Palestinian leader he planned to apologize to Israel and Germany, Abbas responded instead by citing allegations of atrocities committed by Israel since 1947.
“If we want to go over the past, go ahead,” Abbas, who was speaking Arabic, told the reporters.
“I have 50 slaughters that Israel committed in 50 Palestinian villages… 50 massacres, 50 slaughters, 50 holocausts,” he said, pronouncing the final word in English.
Scholz was widely criticized for failing to speak out. Der Spiegel, Welt, Junge Freiheit, and other media outlets ran headlines noting his silence during the press conference. BILD expressed shock that there was “not a word of dissent in the face of the worst Holocaust relativization that a head of government has ever uttered in the chancellor’s office.”
Bundestag opposition leader Friedrich Merz, head of Germany’s powerful Christian Democrat party, said Scholz “should have contradicted the Palestinian President in no uncertain terms and asked him to leave the house!”
Most of the backlash, though, was aimed at Abbas for refusing to apologize over the Munich massacre and for what critics said was trivializing the Holocaust.
Germany’s Ambassador to Israel Steffen Seibert called Abbas’s comments “wrong and unacceptable.”
Following the uproar, Abbas issued a statement released by the Palestinian Authority’s official WAFA news agency, walking back his comments and affirming that “the Holocaust is the most heinous crime in modern human history.”
A spokesman for Scholz told reporters that his office had summoned the head of the Palestinian mission in Berlin on Wednesday.
The chancellor’s foreign and security policy adviser conveyed that Scholz expects the Palestinian Authority president “to acknowledge the singularity of the Holocaust without any qualification,” Steffen Hebestreit said. “His gaffe yesterday casts a dark shadow over Germany’s relations with the Palestinian Authority.”