Husam Zomlot, a senior Palestinian diplomat, pushed back on Monday against accusations of Holocaust denial following a media uproar in the United Kingdom over comments attributed to him.
Speaking to The Times of Israel, Zomlot, the head of the PLO mission in the US, unequivocally condemned the massacre of Jews in Europe in the 20th century as “a heinous crime.”
Last week, British tabloids including the Daily Mail and the Sun ran stories about Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party, speaking at Zomlot’s 2010 wedding. The news outlets referred to Zomlot as an alleged Holocaust-denier, based on a media appearance he made several years ago.
“I absolutely do not deny the Holocaust, which was a heinous crime,” Zomlot said Monday. “I know very well what happened to European Jews. I have sat next to the family members of survivors and listened to the horrifying details of what their loved ones experienced.”
The articles in the British press that referred to Zomlot as an alleged Holocaust-denier pointed to an interview he gave to BBC Radio in August 2014.
In that interview, Zomlot responded to comments made by then economy minister Naftali Bennett in a prior segment of the radio program about Bennett’s opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state.
Bennett argued that Israel allowing for the creation of a Palestinian state would lead to the establishment of an “Islamic” and “terror” state.
Zomlot, referring somewhat incoherently to Bennett and other Israeli right-wingers, said: “He’s not defending Israel proper. He’s defending Israel’s expansion, Israel’s colonialism and Israel’s siege. And in his mind and he believes so that we do not even deserve to have basic rights. And therefore, they are fabricating these stories about beheading journalists somewhere in Iraq [and] about Palestine and the nation that has been [inaudible].”
When the BBC host then pointed to the case of journalist James Foley, beheaded by the Islamic State in Syria that year, Zomlot responded that “it happened somewhere else in Iraq, as if they are fabricating also the story of the Holocaust that it happened in Europe. And not the story itself but the reason why they are doing this and using so many other examples to justify the murder of a nation that has been in quest for self-determination and basic rights.”
Addressing those 2014 comments, Zomlot said Monday that he did not mean to say that Israeli right-wingers “are fabricating the story of the Holocaust,” but rather that the idea that Palestinians hold an ideology akin to that of the Islamic State terror group or the Nazis was made up.
“What I meant to say is that the Israeli right is fabricating the idea that Palestinians hold a similar ideology to that of ISIS or the Nazis. I meant to say that the Palestinian issue has nothing to do with erasing or massacring another people, and that a Palestinian state will not empower anyone who thinks or operates in the ways of ISIS and the Nazis,” he said.
Zomlot, whom Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recalled from his post in Washington, DC, in May amid tensions with US President Donald Trump’s administration, had previously condemned the Holocaust.
At a conference in Doha in 2014, approximately two months before the BBC Radio interview, he called the Holocaust “a terrible crime.”
Abbas, however, has made comments seen as questioning the Holocaust and the historical persecution of European Jews.
In a book he published in 1983 based on his doctoral dissertation, Abbas cast doubt over whether six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
Speaking before a PLO body in April this year, Abbas said that European Jews were massacred throughout the centuries because of their “social role related to banks and usury.” Israeli and Jewish leaders widely panned his comments as anti-Semitic.
Since becoming the head of the PLO mission in Washington, Zomlot has cultivated relationships with American Jewish and pro-Israel groups including J Street, Americans for Peace Now, AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League, according to a recent article on the diplomat in Moment magazine, a publication that largely covers Jewish affairs in the US.
In the past year, he has also arranged for delegations of American Jews, including a group of rabbis, to visit the West Bank and meet with Palestinian leaders.
Zomlot said he first met Corbyn — who has been embroiled in a scandal regarding the Labour party’s handling of anti-Semitism within the faction and has been pilloried for meetings with Palestinian terrorists — while a graduate student in London.
“He has been a personal friend of mine since I met him as a student in London,” Zomlot said, who studied in the English capital some 20 years ago. “He came to my wedding along with several other British politicians and he made a deeply moving speech. I was truly honored by his attendance.”
Corbyn has faced intense criticism in recent weeks for laying a wreath at a Tunisian cemetery in 2014 near the graves of Palestinian terrorists involved in the slaying of 11 Israeli athletes and team members at the 1972 Olympic Games.
Zomlot did not comment on Corbyn’s participation in the wreath-laying in 2014.