In call with Lapid, German leader again condemns Abbas ‘holocausts’ remarks

Olaf Scholz tells PM it was important to personally decry PA president’s allegation; Lapid urges Europe to stop letting Iran drag its feet in nuclear talks

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas leave after a press conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on August 16, 2022. (JENS SCHLUETER / AFP)
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas leave after a press conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on August 16, 2022. (JENS SCHLUETER / AFP)

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz condemned in a Thursday phone call with Prime Minister Yair Lapid inflammatory comments made Tuesday in Berlin by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Scholz told Lapid that it was important for him to personally emphasize to the prime minister his condemnation of Abbas’s claims that Israel had carried out “50 holocausts” against Palestinians.

“Keeping alive the memory of the civilizational rupture of the Shoah is an everlasting responsibility of this and every German government,” said Scholz, according to Berlin’s readout of the conversation.

On Wednesday, Scholz said he was “disgusted” by the remarks, after enduring criticism by local media for not immediately countering Abbas’s remarks, which the latter 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.

During their phone call, Lapid thanked the German leader, saying he was speaking both as Israel’s premier and as the son of a Holocaust survivor, according to a statement released by Lapid’s office.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Abbas was responding to a reporter’s question about the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Munich massacre. 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.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on July 24, 2022 (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Asked whether as Palestinian leader he planned to apologize to Israel and Germany, 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.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gesticulates during a joint press conference with the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on August 16, 2022. (JENS SCHLUETER / AFP)

In their call Thursday, Scholtz and Lapid also discussed the ongoing nuclear talks with Iran.

Lapid stressed Israel’s firm opposition to a return to the deal. He added that it was crucial for the E3 — Germany, France, and the UK — to send a clear message that they would make no further concessions to Iran during the talks.

The latest draft agreement from the EU foreign policy chief reportedly made significant concessions on sanctions and on IAEA inspections.

Lapid also urged the European states to ensure that they are not allowing Iran to drag out the talks in Vienna, which have gained some momentum in recent weeks.

Scholz and Lapid agreed to meet in the near future, according to the Israeli statement.  Reports on Thursday indicated that Lapid would visit Germany on an official visit slated for September, although no official confirmation has been published.

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

Ankie Spitzer holds a framed photo her husband Andre had made for the Munich Olympics before his death, as she poses in her home in Ramat Hasharon, Israel, on July 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

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

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.

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

Not a word of dissent

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.”

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.”

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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