Germany’s foreign minister Wednesday condemned a speech by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in which he claimed that the Holocaust was the result of Jews’ own “social behavior” rather than anti-Semitism.
Heiko Maas tweeted that Germany was responsible for “one of the worst crimes in history, and, “therefore, we must respond resolutely to any anti-Semitic expression,” he said, linking to an article about Abbas’s Monday night speech.
Abbas, who has faced accusations of anti-Semitism in the past, suggested in an address to a meeting of the Palestinian National Council on Monday night that Jews’ relations with banking had led to hostility against them. The speech has sparked outrage in Israel.
During his long-winded speech Monday in Ramallah in front of hundreds at a rare session of the Palestinian National Council, 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.”
The incendiary content of Abbas’s Monday 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 his speech.
In an unusual move, the European Union also condemned Abbas for “unacceptable remarks” he made in the speech.
“The speech Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivered on 30 April contained unacceptable remarks concerning the origins of the Holocaust and Israel’s legitimacy,” a spokesman for the EU’s diplomatic service said in a statement.
“Such rhetoric will only play into the hands of those who do not want a two-state solution, which President Abbas has repeatedly advocated.”
The EU stressed the importance of Holocaust education in minimizing hatred, and rejected any forms of anti-Semitism.
“The Holocaust and World War Two have defined Europe’s modern history like no other event. Holocaust education remains central to building up resilience against all forms of hatred in our societies,” the statement read. “Anti-Semitism is not only a threat for Jews but a fundamental menace to our open and liberal societies. The European Union remains committed to combat any form of anti-Semitism and any attempt to condone, justify or grossly trivialize the Holocaust.”
The condemnation was unusual, as a few months ago the same body refused to comment on a controversial speech by Abbas, saying it wouldn’t respond to speeches.
The United Nations envoy to the region also condemned Abbas, saying that he “chose to use his speech at the opening of the Palestinian National Council to repeat some of the most contemptuous anti-Semitic slurs.”
“Such statements are unacceptable, deeply disturbing and do not serve the interests of the Palestinian people or peace in the Middle East, said Nickolay Mladenov. “Denying the historic and religious connection of the Jewish people to the land and their holy sites in Jerusalem stands in contrast to reality.”
“The Holocaust did not occur in a vacuum, it was the result of thousands of years of persecution. This is why attempts to rewrite, downplay or deny it are dangerous,” Mladenov said.
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’ remarks.
“Such a hateful diatribe against a people who have undergone thousands of years of intolerable persecution, is completely unacceptable. I call on all leaders of good faith to condemn these repeated hateful remarks and demand a full and sincere apology from Mr. Abbas,” Danon said, calling for the Security Council to take action.
In a speech in January, Abbas had indicated that European Jews during the Holocaust chose to undergo “murder and slaughter” rather than emigrate to British-held Palestine.
“Our policy is not to comment on comments,” an EU spokesperson in Brussels told The Times of Israel at the time.
The EU routinely issues condemnations of Israeli plans to build housing units beyond the 1967 lines, arguing that such moves are illegal under international law and diminish the prospects of peace. The union was also very vocal in condemning the US administration’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Wednesday’s EU statement came shortly after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the international community to condemn Abbas’s speech.
“Apparently a Holocaust-denier remains a Holocaust-denier,” Netanyahu said, 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 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 contributed to this report.