A senior Palestinian Authority official on Wednesday defended a speech given by PA President Mahmoud Abbas widely decried as anti-Semitic, claiming Israel had distorted Abbas’s words and saying that Abbas did not deny the historical massacres of Jews including during the Holocaust.
Abbas’s remarks at the Palestine National Council “were distorted,” Saeb Erekat said in a statement, and the PA president “did not deny massacres against Jews, including the Holocaust.” Erekat added that Abbas still “believes in peace, negotiations and the establishment of two states living in peace, security and good neighborliness.”
Abbas has been widely condemned by the international community, Holocaust scholars and the Israeli government for his speech at the opening of the Palestinian National Council on Monday in which he said that the Holocaust was not caused by anti-Semitism, but by the actions of Jews, including “the social behavior, [charging] interest, and financial matters.”
His remarks, translated from the original Arabic by numerous media outlets, including The Times of Israel, have prompted a growing chorus of outrage since they were delivered. Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt called the comments “classic anti-Semitism.”
Abbas, who made a series of other denigrating remarks in what he called a “history lesson,” was not quoted denying the massacres of Jews in the Holocaust.
Erekat, who has led the Palestinian peace negotiations and is secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said he was surprised at what he called the Israeli-led smear campaign against Abbas and said his statements had been distorted.
He said that Abbas, in his speech, was merely mentioning the opinion of some Jewish historians.
He also said that Abbas had repeatedly stressed his respect for the Jewish religion and that his issue was only “with those who occupy our land.”
On Monday, in his speech in his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah in front of hundreds at a rare session of the Palestinian National Council, Abbas touched on a number of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories during what he called his “history lesson,” as he sought to prove the 3,000 year-old Jewish connection to the Land of Israel is false.
Abbas said his narrative was backed by points made by Jewish writers and historians, including the theory oft-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 therefore 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,” Abbas 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 incident against Jews in over 1,400 years — because they were Jews in Arab lands.”
Abbas 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.”
I can’t believe what I am hearing. Abu Mazen on PA TV basically saying Hitler facilitated building Israel. pic.twitter.com/2BlU2QUsRt
— Ghanem Nuseibeh (@gnuseibeh) April 30, 2018
Abbas also repeated and elaborated on his previous claim Israel was a European project from the start.
In a speech in January, Abbas had indicated that European Jews during the Holocaust chose to undergo “murder and slaughter” over emigration to British-held Palestine. On Monday, 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.”
He then added that European leaders such as the United Kingdom’s Lord Arthur Balfour restricted the immigration of Jews to their 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.
“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.
Abbas on Monday also 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.
The Palestinian 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.
Abbas, in his Monday address, made no mention of the Jews’ historic presence and periods of sovereignty in the holy land. Israel is the only place where the Jews have ever been sovereign or sought sovereignty.