US antisemitism envoy and EU denounce Mahmoud Abbas’s speech: Distorts the Holocaust

Europeans blast ‘grossly misleading’ claims by Palestinian Authority leader that Hitler killed Jews because they were moneylenders, and Ashkenazi Jews are descendants of Khazars

PA President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech at the European Union Parliament in Brussels on June 23, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS)
PA President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech at the European Union Parliament in Brussels on June 23, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS)

The US and EU on Thursday condemned Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for a recent speech about the origins of Ashkenazi Jews and Adolf Hitler’s motivations, with the latter saying it fuels antisemitism and insults Holocaust victims.

US Special Envoy to Combat Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt slammed the “hateful, antisemitic remarks” made by Abbas in a speech last month to his Fatah party’s Revolutionary Council.

“The speech maligned the Jewish people, distorted the Holocaust, and misrepresented the tragic exodus of Jews from Arab countries,” Lipstadt wrote on X.

“I condemn these statements and urge an immediate apology,” she added.

Two other senior US officials subsequently called out Abbas on Thursday, with US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield saying the PA leader’s remarks “undermine prospects for a secure and peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians” in addition to being “hateful and antisemitic.”

US Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Ellen Germain tweeted that Abbas’s comments “are horrifying examples of Holocaust distortion and efforts to rewrite the history of WWII and the Holocaust. We must call out such lies and distortions whenever we see or hear them. The truth matters.”

The US condemnations came as the EU also denounced Abbas’s comments, saying they contained “false and grossly misleading remarks about Jews and antisemitism.”

Abbas repeated a number of antisemitic canards he has uttered over the years, including that Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler had Jews slaughtered because of their “social role” as moneylenders, not because of enmity toward Judaism.

“Such historical distortions are inflammatory, deeply offensive, can only serve to exacerbate tensions in the region and serve no one’s interests,” read the EU statement. “They play into the hands of those who do not want a two-state solution, which President Abbas has repeatedly advocated for.

“Moreover, they trivialize Holocaust [sic] and thereby fuel anti-Semitism and are an insult to the millions of victims of the Holocaust and their families,” continued the European condemnation.

US Special Envoy to Combat and Monitor Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt speaks at a conference focused on bans on ritual slaughter that have been proposed and approved in European countries in Brussels on October 20, 2022. (US State Department)

France’s embassy called the speech “clearly unacceptable” and stated that it “unequivocally strongly condemns antisemitism and the denial of the Holocaust in all its forms, as well as its determination to fight tirelessly against these scourges.”

In his speech, Abbas outlined the baseless theory that Ashkenazi Jews are not descended from ancient Israelites but from an ancient Turkish people known as the Khazars, who according to a discredited theory converted to Judaism en masse.

Adolf Hitler admires a model of the Volkswagen car. He is with the designer Ferdinand Porsche, left, and various Nazi officials. (public domain)

“The truth that we should clarify to the world is that European Jews are not Semites,” Abbas said, according to a translation of his remarks by the Middle East Media Research Institute. “They have nothing to do with Semitism.”

“So when we hear them talk about Semitism and antisemitism, the Ashkenazi Jews, at least, are not Semites,” he added.

Abbas has previously claimed publicly that Ashkenazi Jews are the descendants of Khazars, including in a 2018 speech in which he also charged that Jews’ “social behavior” caused the Holocaust.

“They say that Hitler killed the Jews because they were Jews and that Europe hated the Jews because they were Jews. Not true. It was clearly explained that [the Europeans] fought [the Jews] because of their social role, and not their religion,” Abbas said in August. “Several authors wrote about this. Even Karl Marx said this was not true. He said that the enmity was not directed at Judaism as a religion but at Judaism for its social role.”

“The [Europeans] fought against these people because of their role in society, which had to do with usury, money and so on and so forth,” he continued.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas chairs the 11th session of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council on August 26, 2023 in Ramallah (Thaer Ghanayem/via WAFA)

Abbas then appeared to repeat the stab-in-the-back myth that Hitler subscribed to after World War I, blaming the Jews and others for Germany’s loss in the conflict.

“Everybody knows that during World War I, Hitler was a sergeant. He said that he fought the Jews because they were dealing with usury and money. In his view, they were engaged in sabotage, and this is why he hated them,” he said. “We just want to make this point clear: This was not about Semitism and antisemitism.”

“As for the eastern Jews, they are Semites,” he added, referring to Jews from the greater Middle East.

Abbas also launched a fresh diatribe against the Balfour Declaration, the 1917 document issued by the British government declaring support for a “national home” for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, which he charged America was a party to at the time.

“Who invented the [Jewish] state? It was Britain and America, not just Britain,” he claimed. “I am saying this so that we know who we should accuse of being our enemy, who has harmed us and took our homeland away, and gave it to the Israelis or the Jews.”

Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan attends a meeting of the Special Political and Decolonization Committee at UN headquarters on Friday, November 11, 2022. (AP/Jeenah Moon)

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan ripped into Abbas on Wednesday, after the translation of the PA leader’s remarks was published.

“This is the true face of Palestinian ‘leadership,'” Erdan wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “Just as Abbas blames the Jews for the Holocaust, he also blames the Jews for all the Middle East’s issues. While he spreads this pure antisemitism he also pays Palestinian terrorists for murdering Israelis and publicly commends Palestinian terrorism.

“The world must wake up and hold Abbas and his Palestinian Authority accountable for the hatred they spew and the ensuing bloodshed it causes. There must be zero tolerance for Palestinian incitement and terror!” the envoy added.

Yad Vashem also panned the remarks on Thursday, saying Abbas’s “reprehensible remarks have no place in our society & must be unequivocally condemned by global leaders. We can’t stay silent in the face of such hateful rhetoric.”

Abbas has a history of making antisemitic claims and incendiary comments about the Holocaust, including saying in May that Israel “lies like” chief Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Last year in Germany, he accused Israel of perpetrating “50 holocausts” at a press conference alongside Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Israel, Germany, and the US reacted to the statement with shock and outrage.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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