In an unusual move, the main Palestinian lobby group in Germany condemned what it called “anti-Semitic” remarks by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas about the Holocaust.
The German-Palestinian Society, or DPG, in a statement Tuesday said it “dissociates itself clearly and unequivocally” from the remarks by Abbas.
Speaking Monday in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Abbas said that Jews caused the Holocaust with their “social behavior,” such as money lending. He also said that Jews do not have a historical connection to the land.
His remarks earned condemnation from across the political spectrum. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of the Trump administration blasted the remarks. Liberal Jewish groups like J Street and American Friends of Peace Now said his remarks were incendiary and offensive.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum issued an unusually strong statement. “Abbas’s self-titled ‘history lesson’ was anything but,” said Museum Director Sara J. Bloomfield. “Rather than expose Palestinians to accurate information about the Holocaust and the anti-Semitic persecution Jews faced for centuries in Europe, Abbas distorts the history to advance an agenda that lies about the Holocaust and Jews’ connection to Israel.”
The statement by the German Palestinian group called Abbas’s address a “speech riddled with anti-Semitic remarks.”
“To suggest that Jews in some way share a responsibility for the Holocaust is a grotesque distortion of historical facts,” DPG wrote in its statement. “The claim that the Jewish people have no roots in the Holy Land is equally erroneous.”
Allegations of anti-Semitism against Abbas by key allies in Europe are rare. The Holocaust is a sensitive issue in Germany, whose Nazi leadership masterminded and led the genocide during World War II. The DPG’s open rebuke of Abbas may also reflect growing discomfort with his increasingly radical rhetoric among allies stating the case for Palestinian rights in liberal societies.
On Wednesday, the European Jewish Congress called on European leaders and officials to cease all contact with the Palestinian leader until he apologizes for his outrageous anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.
“For far too long European leaders have given Mahmoud Abbas the benefit of the doubt over his repeated incitement against Israel, the Jewish People and his denial of the Holocaust,” Moshe Kantor, the European Jewish Congress president, said in a statement. “This must come to an end and he must be treated like any racist or anti-Semite and contact with him must cease until he apologizes.”
Also Wednesday, the European Union’s diplomatic service joined in the condemnation of Abbas’ remarks. Stopping short of calling them anti-Semitic, the EU External Action service in a statement said they were “unacceptable” and “will only play into the hands of those who do not want a two-state solution.” The EU said it “remains committed to combat any form of anti-Semitism and any attempt to condone, justify or grossly trivialize the Holocaust.”
German Foreign Minister Heiku Maas said in response to Abbas’ remarks that his country was responsible for “one of the worst crimes in history.”
“Therefore,” he said, “we must respond resolutely to any anti-Semitic expression.”
Abbas touched on a number of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories Monday 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.
He said his narrative was backed by points made by Jewish writers and historians, the first being a theory often criticized as anti-Semitic that Ashkenazi Jews are not the descendants of the ancient Israelites.
Pointing to Arthur Koestler’s book “The Thirteenth Tribe,” which asserts that Ashkenazi Jews are descended from Khazars, Abbas said European Jews had “no historical ties” to the Land of Israel.
“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.”
Abbas claimed that Adolf Hitler, whose Nazi regime was responsible for the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust, facilitated the immigration of Jews to Israel by reaching a deal with the Anglo-Palestine Bank (today Bank Leumi) under which Jews who moved to the British Mandate of Palestine could transfer all their assets there through the bank.
Abbas also repeated and elaborated on his previous claim Israel was a European project from the start.
He then added that European leaders such as the United Kingdom’s Lord Arthur Balfour restricted the immigration of Jews to their own countries while simultaneously promoting the immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel.
The 1917 Balfour Declaration endorsed the idea of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.
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.
Abbas, in his Monday address, made no mention of the Jews’ historic presence and periods of sovereignty in the Holy Land.
Abbas also reiterated his preemptive rejection of the peace plan that the Trump administration is working on, amid an ongoing and deep rift with the US.
He told the PNC that he plans to take unspecified “tough steps” soon against Israel and the United States.
Abbas told the hundreds of delegates that he was sticking to his rejection of any US proposals for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal following the Trump administration’s recognition in December of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and a decision to move the US embassy there in mid-May.
“This is completely unacceptable,” he said. “We will not accept this deal, and we will not accept the US as the sole broker” of peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel.
Raphael Ahren and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.