Australia/Israel Review

Scribblings: Antisemitism and the Palestinian narrative

Jun 29, 2023 | Tzvi Fleischer

Mahmoud Abbas: Antisemitism woven into recent comments on Israeli-Palestinian history (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
Mahmoud Abbas: Antisemitism woven into recent comments on Israeli-Palestinian history (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

As I have previously documented in this column, the dominant Palestinian narrative about Israel is not simply the claim that Jews came and took land that rightfully belongs to the Palestinian people. In addition, Palestinian leaders, spokespeople and popular culture almost always allege that this process was a conspiracy – Jews were not simply seeking to create a homeland, they went or were sent to “Palestine” for a darker, secret purpose. Multiple versions of what that covert purpose really was are put forward, but perhaps the most common is that it was a plot by the colonial powers to divide the Arabs and keep them weak. 

But a very common part of that explanation is the allegation that Jews were dangerous and impossible to live with, so the European powers wanted to get rid of them, and therefore inflicted them on the Palestinians. 

Here are a few recent examples of this type of claim from official Palestinian media or leaders, as collected and translated by Palestinian Media Watch:

  • Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in his May 15 speech at the UN to mark “Nakba day”: “They [the colonial powers] decided to establish and plant another entity in our historical homeland… to get rid of the Jews and enjoy having them in Palestine – two birds with one stone.”
  • In another comment earlier this year, Abbas said on official PA TV (February 12), “The colonialist states conspired together to issue [the Balfour Declaration] – and foremost among them was Britain and America – in order to get rid of the Jews in Europe on the one hand, and establish a so-called national home for them in Palestine on the other hand. The truth is that they wanted to build an outpost to protect their interests in our region.”
  • A fuller example of this narrative was a controversial speech Abbas gave to the Palestinian National Council in 2018. In it, he denied Jewish claims to be longing for a homeland were genuine, saying, “They are talking about longing for Zion and that’s why they are going [there] and so forth. I say – not me, rather history says, that these words are baseless.”
  • And he also said, “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.’… the Jewish problem that was common in all of the states of Europe… was not due to their religion, but rather due to their social role that was connected to usury, and banks, and so forth.” (Under international pressure, Abbas later apologised for this speech.)
  • Up until at least 2021, the official Facebook page of Abbas’ Fatah movement included a documentary film clip proclaiming that “the Jews allied with Nazis to accumulate wealth,” “the Jews established ghettos in order to separate from other people out of arrogance and disgust of non-Jews,” and “Jews were hated because of their racism and filthy behaviour… Zionism was born from the womb of exploitation, while taking advantage of this hatred [of Jews] and turning it once again into a colonialist tool.”
  • The spokesperson for PLO General Union of Palestinian Women (GUPW) Wisam Al-Rais said on official PA TV on November 7, 2022: “Jews… were generally hated by the masses. There was a need to get rid of them, but in a manner that would suit Britain’s interests. They [wanted to] plant a foreign body in the Arab homeland… it would be a knife in the heart of the Arab world.” 
  • An article in the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida on December 19, 2022 declared, “The Jews… are continuing to fulfill the same negative social, economic, and political role that caused societies in Europe to vomit them out.”

Note that all of the above statements came from individuals or outlets associated with the “moderate” Palestinian Authority – not the rejectionist Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

I want to call attention to two implications of this common element of the Palestinian narrative about Israel and Zionism.

Firstly, it helps explain the very widespread antisemitism among Palestinians. A 2014 survey on antisemitic attitudes administered in 100 nations by the US-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) found that fully 93% of Palestinians surveyed agreed with six or more of the 11 sentences presenting anti-Jewish stereotypes that made up the survey. This is the highest of any group in the world. And anyone who looks at Palestinian media sees blatantly antisemitic claims made all the time.

This is not simply because Palestinians are in a long-standing conflict with the Jewish state, but also because the Palestinian narrative – a core belief system that is a foundation of Palestinian national identity – says that not only did the Jews steal “Palestine”, they did so because everyone justifiably hated them in the lands where they previously lived. 

Secondly, this belief is a key underpinning for widespread Palestinian support for the “ethnic cleansing solution” that I have previously documented in the column. As I have shown from both polls and statements from Palestinian opinion leaders, many, perhaps most, Palestinians do not ultimately seek either a “two-state” or a “one-state solution”. They often openly suggest that what they really want and expect is that all or most of the Jewish inhabitants of Israel will leave, be expelled, or be killed. 

Why? They are taught in the shared Palestinian narrative that the Jews are so awful and impossible to live with that the European powers dumped them in Palestine – for their own nefarious purposes. Taught this, it is easy to see why many Palestinians are sure that coexistence with Jews is impossible. 

Is it any wonder a two-state peace based on such coexistence has proven impossible to achieve?


PA President Mahmoud appears to be doubling down on antisemtiic comments because he regards them as essential to the Palestinian “narrative”(Image: Shutterstock)

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