Australia/Israel Review


Scribblings: Doubling down on disaster

Aug 30, 2022 | Tzvi Fleischer

Mahmoud Abbas: Intemperate Holocaust remarks echoed by Fatah loyalists (Image: Shutterstock)
Mahmoud Abbas: Intemperate Holocaust remarks echoed by Fatah loyalists (Image: Shutterstock)

On Aug. 17, during a state visit to Germany, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said something at a Berlin press conference that strongly angered his hosts, led to widespread international condemnation, and, by any reasonable reckoning, caused damage to the Palestinian “cause”. 

Abbas was asked by a reporter whether the PLO would apologise for the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, when 11 Israeli athletes and officials were killed by PLO-affiliated terrorists 50 years ago this month. Abbas responded by saying “If we want to dig further into the past, yes, please, I have 50 massacres that were committed by Israel… 50 massacres, 50 Holocausts.” 

This was in Germany, as noted. His remarks were widely described there with various versions of the word “disgusting”, including by Chancellor Olaf Scholz who said he was “disgusted by the outrageous remarks.” Abbas’ remark even became the subject of a criminal investigation by the German police.

Abbas’ “50 Holocausts” outburst was actually consistent with a long-standing pattern of minimising or denigrating the Holocaust by the Palestinian leader. His 1982 university thesis cast doubt on the number of six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, and also bizarrely insisted “the Zionist movement” had been the “basic partner” with the Nazis in perpetrating the Holocaust. He repeated similar claims about Zionist responsibility in 2003 and 2013. Then, in 2018, he said the Holocaust was caused by the Jews’ “social behaviour, [charging] interest, and financial matters.”

Yet despite this highly troubling record, even Abbas recognised that, after the Berlin remarks, he was in a hole and he needed to stop digging. His office issued a statement which did not apologise for the remarks, but did say Abbas accepted that the Holocaust was “the most heinous crime in modern human history.”

Yet despite this apparent retraction, many other Palestinian leaders, including key members of Abbas’ own Fatah party, doubled down on his original disastrous remarks, insisting Abbas was right. 

Here are just some of the examples being reported:

The ruling Fatah faction posted a photo of a smiling Abbas on social media with a caption reading “Mr. President, you are strong. Continue with God’s blessing and rest assured. We are proud of you and we are all behind you.”

Munther al-Hayek, a senior Fatah official, said Abbas’ remarks in Germany were designed to “remind the world of the suffering of the Palestinian people, who deserve an apology for the crimes committed against them.”

Bassam Salhi, member of the PLO Executive Committee on Facebook: “Abu Mazen’s [Abbas’] statements in Germany that Israel has and continues to commit holocausts against the Palestinian people are truthful and express the position of the Palestinians.” 

Tayseer Khaled, another member of the PLO Executive Committee, said Abbas “did not miss the point when he told the German Chancellor that Israel has committed 50 holocausts…”

Hassan Asfour, a former PLO negotiator with Israel and editor-in-chief of the Palestinian Amad news website, insisted; “President Abbas’ statements are not self-invention… Palestinians should not remain silent toward the war against President Abbas, whose words represent every Palestinian inside and outside the homeland.” 

Bakr Abu Bakr, a former member of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, published an article in the online daily alwatanvoice.com saying; “Our brother President Abu Mazen [Abbas] was right … [to say] that, since the Nakba of 1948 – the Palestinian holocaust – the Israelis have perpetrated several [additional] holocausts [in the form of] repeated massacres.” He also included antisemitic remarks about Jews thinking it is fine to murder Palestinians because of their “delusion” of being “the chosen people”.

Even the Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry got in on the act. It didn’t exactly endorse Abbas’ “50 Holocausts” claim, but it did attack Israeli PM Yair Lapid for criticising Abbas’ remarks. It said Lapid’s criticism of Abbas was “an attempt to protect the false narrative that Israel is trying to market in order to deceive the world” and “proves that the occupying state has no desire to apologise for the crimes committed by the Zionist gangs against the Palestinian people.” Apparently, the only proper response to Abbas’ “50 Holocausts” claim was an Israeli apology for having committed them.

Perhaps the most telling remark came from PA Presidential Advisor Mahmoud Al-Habbash speaking on official PA TV (Aug. 17), who said Abbas, “spoke in the name of all of us. He conveyed what we all feel, and he conveyed the reality of what his entire nation is facing.”

As noted, even Abbas seemed to recognise that making such obviously extreme and offensive Holocaust claims, displaying gross ignorance about history, was detrimental to the Palestinian reputation and to public efforts to gain sympathy and support. So why did so many Palestinian leaders insist on repeating them?

The fact is that, as Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) has documented, official government-controlled Palestinian media outlets such as the newspaper Al-Hayat Al Jadida and PA TV feature claims that Israelis are “Nazis”, or even “worse than Nazis”, inflicting a “Holocaust” or “Holocausts” on Palestinians, all the time. PMW lists more than a dozen examples in the last year. This is simply standard Palestinian discourse.

The assertion that the Palestinian national fight is not merely for self-determination and land, but a battle against a cosmologically evil enemy utterly determined to wipe out every last Palestinian – Zionist Nazis committing a Holocaust of Palestinians – seems to have become a core tenet of the ideology of the Palestinian national movement. 

If this claim were true, it follows there could be no coexistence or compromise with such an enemy. So is it any wonder that a two-state peace remains so elusive?

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