The United Kingdom and France joined Israel and much of the international community in condemning a speech by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that claimed the Holocaust was the result of Jews’ own “social behavior” and financial conduct rather than anti-Semitism.
While stressing Abbas’s role in peace negotiations, UK’s Middle East Minister Alistair Burt said the speech did not help his own people.
“President Abbas has shown a commitment to non-violence and a two-state solution,” Burt said in a statement. “But his recent rhetoric does not serve the interests of the Palestinian people and is deeply unhelpful to the cause of peace.”
The minister said a hoped-for peace deal could not be based on denying history.
“At a highly sensitive time in the region, when we must all look forwards and work urgently towards a resolution of the longstanding issues between Israel and the Palestinian people, the fundamentals of peace cannot be built on views of the Holocaust which fly in the face of history,” he said.
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.”
Though he stopped short of calling the speech anti-Semitic, as some other leaders had done, Burt said that it was unacceptable to try and justify the Holocaust.
“Palestinian President Abbas’s comments at the Palestinian National Congress were deeply concerning. Any attempt to justify or explain away any element of the Holocaust is unacceptable,” he said.
The French Foreign Ministry said it “deplored” Abbas’s speech, calling his words “to be false, unfortunate and untimely.”
It urged Israelis and Palestinians to create an atmosphere conducive to a peace deal.
“France calls on everyone to act in a spirit of peace and dialogue, in order to create the conditions for a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. This requires the greatest responsibility in the public expression of each of the parties,” it said in a statement.
Although not calling Abbas’s speech anti-Semitic, in its statement the French Foreign Ministry condemned all anti-Semitism.
“France recalls its strongest condemnation of anti-Semitism, in all its forms, as well as its determination to fight relentlessly against this scourge,” the statement read.
UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay also strongly criticized the PA leader’s speech, calling it “deeply disturbing,” “dangerous” and “in contrast to reality.”
Azoulay, who is Jewish, endorsed the statement of UN special envoy to the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov, who said that Abbas “chose to use his speech at the opening of the Palestinian National Council to repeat some of the most contemptuous anti-Semitic slurs.”
Joining my voice to UN envoy @nmladenov regarding comments by President Abbas. All forms of antisemitism, including Holocaust denial and relativization, are unacceptable. @UNESCO promotes Holocaust education against falsifications of history & combats antisemitism thru education. pic.twitter.com/jTjpssS664
— Audrey Azoulay (@AAzoulay) May 3, 2018
She added on Twitter: “All forms of anti-Semitism, including Holocaust denial and relativization, are unacceptable. UNESCO promotes Holocaust education against falsifications of history and combats anti-Semitism through education.”
Last October, the US and Israel decided to withdraw from UNESCO, citing among other reasons the body’s anti-Israel bias. Israel has slammed the organization for passing resolutions seen as political, downplaying the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and referring to contested sites as “Palestinian heritage sites.”
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 Thursday.
The incendiary content of Abbas’s speech, which was reported by The Times of Israel late that 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.
Following Mladenov’s comments, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon sent a letter to the UN Security Council demanding condemnation of Abbas’s remarks.
Netanyahu said after the speech that “apparently a Holocaust-denier remains a Holocaust-denier,” alluding to Abbas’s 1982 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.”
He went on to claim that the Holocaust was not the result of anti-Semitism but rather of the Jews’ “social behavior, [charging] interest, and financial matters.”
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.