Palestinian academics sign open letter condemning Abbas’s antisemitic comments

Over 100 intellectuals warn of fallout from PA president’s ‘ignorant narratives’ on the Palestinian cause, denounce his ‘authoritarian and draconian rule’

Gianluca Pacchiani is the Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

PA President Mahmoud Abbas holds a joint press conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after their meeting at the Presidential Complex in Ankara on July 25, 2023. (Adem Altan/AFP)
PA President Mahmoud Abbas holds a joint press conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after their meeting at the Presidential Complex in Ankara on July 25, 2023. (Adem Altan/AFP)

A group of Palestinian academics and intellectuals signed an open letter on Sunday to condemn the “morally and politically reprehensible comments” recently made by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas about the Holocaust and the origins of Ashkenazi Jews.

The letter was signed by over a hundred “Palestinian academics, writers, artists, activists, and people of all walks of life,” mostly living in the US and Europe, and was shared by several signatories on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

The letter condemned Abbas’s distortion of the Holocaust in strong terms: “Rooted in a racial theory widespread in European culture and science at the time, the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people was born of antisemitism, fascism, and racism. We adamantly reject any attempt to diminish, misrepresent, or justify antisemitism, Nazi crimes against humanity, or historical revisionism vis-a-vis the Holocaust.”

The letter came in response to the antisemitic statements Abbas recently made at the Fatah party’s Revolutionary Council. Abbas outlined the baseless theory that Ashkenazi Jews are not descended from the Israelites but an ancient people known as the Khazars, and are therefore not Semites. He further claimed that Hitler killed the Jews not because of their religion, but due to their “social role,” which in his words “ had to do with usury, money and so on and so forth.” He has made similar allegations in the past.

Abbas’s statements drew a slew of condemnations in Israel, Europe and the US, and even caused Abbas to be stripped of an honorific medal by the Paris mayor. In an attempt to deflect the criticism, his spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh said on Thursday that the statements were actually “academic and historical quotations” of unnamed Jewish and American authors.

He added that “Mahmoud Abbas’s position on this matter is clear and unwavering, which is a full condemnation of the Nazi Holocaust and a rejection of antisemitism.”

File: Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, speaks at a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 5, 2017. (Flash90)

The second part of the open letter addressed the publicity fallout of Abbas’s statements on the Palestinian cause. “The Palestinian people are sufficiently burdened by Israeli settler colonialism, dispossession, occupation, and oppression without having to bear the negative effect of such ignorant and profoundly antisemitic narratives perpetuated by those who claim to speak in our name,” the authors wrote.

The academics also lambasted the Palestinian Authority, of which Abbas has held the presidency since 2005. “We are also burdened by the PA’s increasingly authoritarian and draconian rule, which disproportionately impacts those living under occupation,” they wrote.

“Having held onto power nearly a decade and a half after his presidential mandate expired in 2009, supported by Western and pro-Israel forces seeking to perpetuate Israeli apartheid, Abbas and his political entourage have forfeited any claim to represent the Palestinian people and our struggle for justice, freedom, and equality, a struggle that stands against all forms of systemic racism and oppression,” the letter ended.

Abbas’s popularity has been in steady decline for years, in the face of growing discontent among Palestinians at his autocratic style of ruling; his refusal to hold elections after his defeat by Hamas in 2006; the PA’s corruption and security cooperation with Israel, which many Palestinians consider a form of collaboration, his perceived inaction in the face of settlement expansion; and his weak governance in parts of the West Bank, particularly in the northern Jenin-Nablus area, which have paved the way for Hamas and the Islamic Jihad to encroach into the area.

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