German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday slammed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for accusing Israel of committing “50 holocausts” against Palestinians over the years, saying he was “disgusted” by the remarks.
Scholz had been criticized by local media for not immediately countering Abbas’s remarks, which he 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, only later expressing displeasure with the remarks.
“I am disgusted by the outrageous remarks made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas,” Scholz tweeted in German and English. “For us Germans in particular, any relativization of the singularity of the Holocaust is intolerable and unacceptable. I condemn any attempt to deny the crimes of the Holocaust.”
Abbas was responding to a reporter’s question about the upcoming anniversary of the Munich massacre half a century ago. 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 for the attack ahead of the 50th anniversary, 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.
Mahmud #Abbas hat Israel gerade auf einer Pressekonferenz im Bundeskanzleramt wortwörtlich unterstellt, seit 1947 "50 Holocauste" begangen zu haben. Auf die gebotene Einordnung des Gesagten verzichtete @phoenix_de. pic.twitter.com/avlfyvzyUR
— Horacio Troche (@breisgau_uru) August 16, 2022
While Scholz had earlier rejected the Palestinian leader’s description of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as “apartheid,” he did not immediately rebuke Abbas for using the term “holocaust.”
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.”
“Germany will never stand for any attempt to deny the singular dimension of the crimes of the Holocaust,” he wrote on Twitter.
Scholz’s office, which normally posts statements on meetings with world leaders and other official business, did not put out a press release on the meeting with Abbas. On social media, Scholz was initially silent beyond a post mourning the death of German filmmaker Wolfgang Peterson.
A spokesman for the chancellor later said that the press conference had been planned to end with the question to Abbas, meaning Scholz had no opportunity to respond. However, the spokesman told journalists who stayed after the event that Scholz had been outraged, BILD reported.
In a statement to BILD, Scholz said, “Especially for us Germans, any relativization of the Holocaust is unbearable and unacceptable.” Germany has long argued the term should only be used to describe the Nazis’ singular crime of killing six million Jews before and during World War II.
Israeli officials also expressed outrage at Abbas’s comments, with Prime Minister Yair Lapid calling them “a monstrous lie.” Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar said the remarks were “shameful” and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman branded Abbas a “Holocaust denier.”
Dani Dayan, chairman of Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum, called Abbas words “despicable” and “appalling.”
Germany was already embroiled in controversy surrounding a planned commemoration marking the 50th anniversary of the Munich attack, after victims’ families announced they planned to boycott the ceremony over a disagreement with Berlin regarding compensation.
Relatives of the athletes have long accused Germany of failing to secure the Olympic Village, refusing Israeli help and botching a rescue operation in which five of the attackers also died.
Agencies contributed to this report.