Middle East

Mahmoud Abbas’ Distorted Rhetoric

Once again, very much to his own detriment and that of the Palestinians, Mahmoud Abbas is playing into the hands of Israelis who categorically reject a two-state solution.

Last month, in a speech that was broadcast on Palestinian television two weeks ago, the president of the Palestinian Authority made two outrageous comments that Germany’s ambassador to Israel, Stephan Seibert, correctly branded as “an insult to the memory of millions of murdered men, women and children.”

Seibert added that “the Palestinians deserve to hear the historical truth from their leader, not such distortions.”

Stephan Seibert

In his remarks, Abbas said, “They say that Hitler killed the Jews because they were Jews, and that Europe hated the Jews because they were Jews.” Cavalierly dismissing this conventional wisdom, Abbas instead claimed that Jews were persecuted due to “their social role, which had to do with usury, money and so on.”

As if this was not enough to turn one’s stomach, Abbas raised the discredited theory that Ashkenazic Jews have no ancient roots in Israel because they are the descendants of the Khazars, a nomadic Turkic tribe that converted to Judaism  during the medieval period. “When we hear them talk about Semitism and antisemitism, the Ashkenazic Jews, at least, are not Semites,” he said.

Mahmoud Abbas addresses Faath’s Revolutionary Council last month

Both of his insinuations are not only profoundly inaccurate, but deeply offensive as well.

Adolf Hitler’s genocidal and irrational campaign against Jews targeted Jews per se and was based on a constellation of fantasies and conspiracy theories. It was not about their so-called “social role” in society or their place in the economy. Hitler’s obsession with and hatred of Jews went far beyond this single issue. To suggest that the Nazis did not in fact harbor malice against Jews is so absurd, so untrue, and so detached from reality and the historical truth.

As someone who wrote a PhD thesis on the Holocaust, Abbas should know better.

Abbas’ misbegotten theory that Ashkenazic Jews are not Semites is similarly beyond the pale. It is nothing but an undisguised ploy to chip away at the Jewish people’s historical, cultural and religious attachment and right to their ancestral homeland.

His comments are a direct challenge to Israel’s legitimacy as a sovereign state, notwithstanding his endorsement of a two-state solution, his opposition to armed struggle to attain this worthy objective, and his condemnation of the Holocaust as a crime against humanity.

As expected, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, reacted swiftly to Abbas’ speech. “This is the true face of Palestinian leadership,” he declared in a clear attempt to tarnish the Palestinian national movement.

Abbas can only blame himself for giving Erdan a platform to denounce the Palestinians, whose quest for statehood is perfectly legitimate and morally right.

Lest it be forgotten, Erdan represents a reactionary government whose objective is to expand the array of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and block the emergence of a Palestinian state.

Regrettably, this was not the first time that Abbas had resorted to inflammatory language to attack Israel.

Four months ago, he likened Israel to Hitler’s Germany, equating Israel’s achievement of greening the desert to Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels’ lies. As Abbas said this past May, “They continue to lie, like Goebbels, and they continue to lie until people believe their lies.”

Joseph Goebbels

Abbas’ comparison prompted Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. State Department’s envoy charged with monitoring and combating antisemitism, to accuse Abbas of insulting the victims and survivors of the Holocaust.

Last year, in the presence of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin, Abbas accused Israel of perpetrating “50 massacres, 50 Holocausts.” Wincing at the false accusation, Scholz expressed disgust with his statement.

Now, in his latest foray into the Holocaust, Abbas has yet again committed a public relations faux pas and inflicted damage on the Palestinian cause.

As the European Union rightly commented, Abbas’ “historical distortions” are self-defeating. They “exacerbate tensions in the region” and definitely do not serve Palestinian interests.