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German president mulling Israel visit amid Munich 50th anniversary boycott

Feud with families of those killed in 1972 massacre exacerbated by Abbas ‘holocausts’ comment during press conference with German chancellor

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, right, welcomes President Reuven Rivlin at a ceremony commemorating the 11 Israeli athletes who were killed in a terrorist attack during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, September 6, 2017. (AP/Matthias Schrader)
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, right, welcomes President Reuven Rivlin at a ceremony commemorating the 11 Israeli athletes who were killed in a terrorist attack during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, September 6, 2017. (AP/Matthias Schrader)

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is considering flying to Israel in a bid to convince the families of the Munich massacre victims to attend commemorations in Germany after they decided they would boycott the events, Hebrew media reported Thursday.

The families of the 11 Israeli athletes killed in Munich are refusing to attend after rejecting a German compensation offer as insulting.

The controversy has been exacerbated in recent days by the furor over Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s inflammatory comments Tuesday, in which he claimed that Israel had carried out “50 holocausts” against Palestinians, drawing international condemnation.

Abbas was responding to questions during a joint press conference in Berlin with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz over whether he would apologize for the Munich massacre, which was carried out by a group then affiliated with his Fatah party.

According to reports, Steinmeier’s potential visit to the victims’ families was spurred by Abbas’s remarks and the subsequent controversy over Scholz’s lack of immediate reaction.

Also Thursday, Prime Minister Yair Lapid is scheduled to hold a phone conversation Thursday with Sholz. The German leader reached out to Lapid after coming under fire for his silence while standing alongside the PA  president at their joint press conference in Berlin.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (R) and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas hold a joint press conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on August 16, 2022. (Jens Schlueter/AFP)

The two are also expected to discuss the reparations package.

Meanwhile, reports on Thursday indicated that Lapid would visit Germany on an official visit slated for September, although no official confirmation has been published.

It is unclear whether Lapid’s trip would overlap with the commemorations in Munich, however. President Isaac Herzog is scheduled to attend the commemoration ceremony, despite pressure from the victims’ families not to participate.

On September 5, 1972, eight gunmen from the Palestinian terrorist organization Black September broke into the Israeli team’s apartment at the Olympic village, shooting dead two and taking nine Israelis hostage, threatening to kill them unless 232 Palestinian prisoners were released.

West German police responded with a bungled rescue operation in which all nine hostages were killed, along with five of the eight hostage-takers and a police officer.

The families have received 4.5 million euros in compensation, but have said it is not enough.

Germany has offered an additional $5.58 million to 23 remaining family members, according to an internal memo obtained by The New York Times, but lawyers for the bereaved families are seeking 20 times that amount.

Ilana Romano, the widow of Yossef Romano, a weightlifter who was one of the first Israelis killed, told public broadcaster Kan last month that Germany’s current reparations offer was “degrading” and that the victims’ families rejected it.

A member of the terrorist group which seized members of the Israeli Olympic Team at their quarters at the Olympic Village appearing with a hood over his face stands on the balcony of the building where they held members of the Israeli team hostage in Munich, Sept. 5, 1972. (AP/Kurt Strumpf)

At the conference Tuesday with Scholz, Abbas was 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.

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.”

Scholz said Wednesday, “I am disgusted by the outrageous remarks made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. 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.”

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.”

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