Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas caused shock in Germany Tuesday when, standing beside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin, he accused Israel of committing “holocausts” against Palestinians over the years.
Scholz did not react verbally to Abbas’s comment in the moment, though he grimaced at the use of the word, which Abbas uttered in English. Scholz later said the use of the term in such a context was “unbearable.”
Reacting to the incident, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid called Abbas’s comments “a moral travesty” and “a terrible distortion.”
Abbas made his remarks when the two spoke to the media after holding a meeting on Middle East issues.
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 after members of the Palestinian militant 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, taking care to pronounce the final word in English.
The PLO leader would have gained sympathy if he had apologized for the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics 1972. Accusing Israel of „50 Holocausts“ instead is the most disgusting speech ever heard in the German Chancellery pic.twitter.com/35O8QYcPYt
— Armin Laschet (@ArminLaschet) August 16, 2022
Scholz scowled at the use of the word but did not say anything.
Germany’s popular BILD newspaper published an outraged website-leading story about the incident, under the title “Antisemitism scandal at the federal chancellery.”
It expressed shock that “not a word of dissent [was said] in the face of the worst Holocaust relativization that a head of government has ever uttered in the chancellor’s office.”
Der Spiegel, Welt, Junge Freiheit and other media oulets also ran headlines noting Scholz’s silence during the press conference.
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.
A spokesman for Scholz told BILD that “before the Chancellor could contradict this outrageous sentence, the government spokesman had already moderated the press conference — as usual after the last question/answer block — which visibly annoyed Scholz.
“The government spokesman then told the journalists who were still present, who could not help noticing the Chancellor’s annoyance, how outraged the chancellor was about the statement and also that he had not had the opportunity to openly contradict [Abbas] one more time.”
In a statement to the BILD, Scholz added: “Especially for us Germans, any relativization of the Holocaust is unbearable and unacceptable.”
Lapid tweeted on Monday night that Abbas’s “statement about ’50 holocausts’ while on German soil is not only a moral travesty but also a terrible distortion… History will not forgive him.”
Earlier during the same press conference, Scholz had pushed back against Abbas using the term “apartheid” to describe Israeli policy regarding the Palestinians.
Abbas, who frequently accuses Israel of practicing apartheid, said in Berlin that “Israel’s undermining of the two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, and turning it into a one-state reality with an apartheid regime, will not serve security and stability in our region.”
Said Scholz: “Naturally we have a different assessment with a view to Israeli politics, and I want to expressly say here that I do not espouse the use of the word ‘apartheid’ and do not think it correctly describes the situation.”
In his remarks, the Palestinian Authority president also said he was committed to building trust and achieving a peaceful solution to the conflict with Israel.
“Please come to peace,” he said. “Please come to security, let’s build trust between us and you. This is better than other kinds of talking.”
Weeks before a planned somber commemoration marking the 50th anniversary of the Munich attack, Germany has also found itself embroiled in controversy in its dealings with the relatives of the Israelis who were killed.
Victims’ families announced last week that they planned to boycott the ceremony after failing to reach an agreement on bigger compensation from the German government.
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.
Abbas has previously stirred up controversy for remarks on the Holocaust, including a 2018 claim that Jewish “social behavior” — not antisemitism — was the cause of Nazi Germany’s genocide of European Jews, which he later apologized for.
The PA leader’s 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.
Also during the press conference, Scholz said he did not believe the time had come to unilaterally recognize Palestinian statehood, which Abbas repeatedly called for.