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Abbas religious affairs adviser defends him from outcry over ’50 holocausts’ remark

Mahmoud al-Habash claims PA leader subject to ‘campaign of incitement’ by Israeli leaders denouncing him for comment during Berlin visit: ‘He’s defending his people’

Palestinian Authority Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud al-Habash (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Palestinian Authority Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud al-Habash (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

A senior adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas defended the leader against an outpouring of criticism for saying Israel had committed “50 holocausts” against the Palestinians.

In a speech broadcast Wednesday by Palestine TV, Mahmoud al-Habash, Abbas’s religious affairs adviser and the PA’s top Sharia judge, said the PA chief was facing a “biased and racist attack” from Israeli leaders, claiming they were criticizing him for the remark because he “is defending his people.” He did not note that others, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, have also criticized Abbas for the claim.

Abbas made the comment Tuesday during a visit to Berlin, when he was asked about the upcoming 50th anniversary of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, in which 11 Israeli athletes and a German police officer were killed after being taken hostage by Palestinian terror group Black September. At the time of the attack, the group was linked to Abbas’s Fatah party.

Pressed whether he planned to apologize over the attack, Abbas responded by instead citing allegations of atrocities committed by Israel since 1947. “I have 50 slaughters that Israel committed in 50 Palestinian villages… 50 massacres, 50 slaughters, 50 holocausts,” he said at a joint press conference alongside Scholz.

The comments sparked outrage in Germany, Israel, the US and elsewhere. On Friday, German police confirmed that they had launched a probe into possible charges of incitement to hatred against Abbas.

After noting the Palestinian Authority president’s comment accusing Israel of carrying out “50 massacres, 50 holocausts,” al-Habash denounced the criticism of Abbas as a “campaign of incitement” against him and “every Palestinian, each and every one of us.”

“He wants to remind the world of the continuous and successive massacres which were committed by the occupation against the Palestinians from 1947 to this very day,” al-Habash said, according to a translation of his comments by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (R) and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas hold a joint press conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on August 16, 2022. (Jens Schlueter/AFP)

“They want us to forget history, while at the same time they want the world to remember a history which is mostly forged, exaggerated, fabricated and with no basis in reality,” he added.

Al-Habash said Abbas’s comments had been made “in the name of all of us.”

“He conveyed the reality of what we all feel, and he conveyed the reality of what his entire nation is facing,” he claimed.

“If Israel had not committed massacres against the Palestinians, then how should we call the war crimes that Israel has been committing against us,” he added.

In a statement released by the Palestinian Authority’s official WAFA news agency Wednesday, Abbas walked back his comments and affirmed that “the Holocaust is the most heinous crime in modern human history.”

On Friday, Berlin police confirmed a report by German daily Bild that Abbas was being investigated for possible incitement to hatred after receiving a formal criminal complaint.

Downplaying the Holocaust is a criminal offense in Germany, but the opening of a preliminary inquiry doesn’t automatically entail a full investigation.

Germany’s foreign ministry said that Abbas — as a representative of the Palestinian Authority — would enjoy immunity from prosecution because he was visiting the country in an official capacity.

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