In a rambling tirade, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas this week dismissed Israel as a European “colonial project” and said the Jews had brought the Holocaust upon themselves.
Abbas’ address to the 23rd session of the Palestinian National Council on Monday was initially overshadowed by news coverage of his rival and onetime peace partner Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech in Jerusalem in which he claimed that Iran was possibly violating its nuclear arms deal.
But as Abbas’ caustic tirade began to resonate — with the Palestinian leader seemingly touching on every anti-Semitic stereotype — reaction in Israel and the West was sharp and critical.
In an angry address that he called a “history lesson,” Abbas, who is popularly known by the nickname Abu Mazen, said that Jews brought the Holocaust upon themselves because they were associated with professions such as money lending.
“These Jews who migrated to Eastern and Western Europe were subjected to massacres by some state every 10 to 15 years from the 11th century until the Holocaust that took place in Germany. OK, but why did this happen? They say: ‘Because we are Jews.’...”
Not so, Abbas insisted. “The Jewish problem that was common in all of the states of Europe against the Jews was not due to their religion, but rather due to their social role that was connected to usury, and banks, and so forth.”
Moreover, he said, there is no such thing as a “Jewish people,” and the notion that Jews are linked to the land of Israel is “baseless.”
The Palestinian leader claimed that the state of Israel was established as “a colonial project that has nothing to do with Judaism” but instead was created to protect European interests in the Middle East.
In response, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman tweeted that “Abu Mazen had reached a new low in attributing the cause of massacres of Jewish people over the years to their ‘social behavior relating to interest and banks.’ To all those who think Israel is the reason that we don’t have peace, think again.”
Netanyahu said that Abbas had shown “utmost ignorance and brazen gall” and called the speech “anti-Semitic.”
Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s special envoy to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, said in a statement that Abbas’ remarks should be “unconditionally condemned by all.”
“They are very unfortunate, very distressing and terribly disheartening,” Greenblatt said in his statement. “Peace cannot be built on this kind of foundation.”
A statement from the European Union said Abbas’ speech was “unacceptable” and “will only play into the hands of those who do not want a two-state solution, which President Abbas has repeatedly advocated.”
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also weighed in, tweeting that “responsibility for the most cruel crime in human history is borne by Germany. The memory of this remains a reminder and a mission to confront all forms of anti-Semitism in a very determined manner worldwide.”
Palestinian negotiators attempted to tamp down the controversy Wednesday, saying Abbas never denied the massacre of millions of Jews during the Holocaust and remains committed to a two-state solution.
Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians’ chief negotiator, said Abbas continues to believe in “peace, negotiations and the establishment of two states living in peace and security and as good neighbors.”
It is not the first time Abbas has stirred controversy with his pronouncements on Israel. His doctoral thesis, written decades ago in Soviet-era Moscow, argues that Jewish leadership in Israel collaborated with the Nazi regime in the 1930s.