Australia/Israel Review

Scribblings: Why Mahmoud Abbas says horrible, antisemitic things

Sep 26, 2023 | Tzvi Fleischer

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

“Moderate” Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas was widely condemned last year for accusing Israel of committing “50 Holocausts” – while in Germany no less. Earlier, in 2018, he was widely condemned for saying in a speech, “Hatred against Jews was not because of their religion, it was because of their social profession… because of usury and banks.” He later apologised for both statements.

Yet he’s now not only basically repeated what he said in 2018 in a speech at a Fatah gathering on August 24, translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, but taken things much further: 

First, he doubled down on his insistence that antisemitism was really about the Jewish “social role” and “usury”, but this time explicitly said this was also the reason for the Holocaust:

They say that Hitler killed the Jews for being Jews, and that Europe hated the Jews because they were Jews. Not true. It was clearly explained that [the Europeans] fought [the Jews] because of their social role, and not their religion… Even Karl Marx said… the enmity was not directed at Judaism as a religion, but to Judaism for its social role… to do with usury, money, and so on and so forth. Even Hitler… said he fought the Jews because they were dealing with usury and money… We just want to make this point clear. This was not about Semitism and antisemitism.

Second, he insisted European Jews are not real Jews, but are descendants of a group of elites from the central Asian Khazar empire who converted to Judaism in the 8th or 9th century – a conspiracy theory long disproven by genetic studies. Also, since they are not “semites”, there can be no antisemitism against them: 

European Jews are not Semites… The story began in 900 CE, in the Khazar Kingdom on the Caspian Sea… a Tatar kingdom that converted to Judaism… They are the forefathers of Ashkenazi Jews. So when we hear them talk about Semitism and antisemitism – the Ashkenazi Jews, at least, are not Semites.

Third, while Abbas admits Middle Eastern Jews who make up around half of Israelis really are Jews, he insisted they never wanted to come to Israel, but were forced to:

[Israeli leader David Ben Gurion] sent his people to Iraq, to kill, destroy, and plant explosives in synagogues, in order to force the Iraqi Jews to emigrate. This also happened in Egypt in 1956… and then in Morocco, and other countries. The Jews did not want to emigrate, but they were forced to do so, by means of pressure, coercion, and murder.

Why did Abbas feel the need to say such things – some of which he had to apologise for previously, and which clearly damaged sympathy for the Palestinian cause?

To answer that, let’s start with the official PA reaction to Abbas’ comments and the international firestorm they provoked. There was no apology this time. Instead, Abbas’ spokesperson lashed out at those who criticised him, expressing “outrage at this frenzied campaign [against Abbas] for just quoting academic and historical quotations.” 

Later, a group of international Palestinian intellectuals condemned Abbas’ remarks about the Holocaust as “morally and politically reprehensible” in an open letter. An official statement from Abbas’ Fatah party furiously denounced this letter as an expression of “political and intellectual terrorism,” saying the signatories had identified “themselves with an ongoing rabid campaign launched by extremists in Israel, America, and Europe,” and participated “in a conspiracy against the Palestinian cause.” 

Part of this crazed reaction is likely just plain authoritarianism – how dare you disagree with the glorious leader! But there is also more to it. Since he keeps coming back to them, even after getting a substantial international backlash, Abbas clearly believes these points are essential to make for the “Palestinian cause”. And indeed, similar claims often appear in official PA media, or from PA-affiliated officials. Why?

Basically, since the formation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation under pan-Arab and Soviet anti-imperialist influences in the 1960s, the official Palestinian narrative has always gone well beyond the claim that all of Palestine is the property and heritage of the Arab Palestinian people, to which the Jews have no right. It also says that Zionist claims about their reason for coming to the land are actually a nefarious conspiracy. Zionists are usually depicted as having always been secretly serving the aims of global imperialism, not really seeking a Jewish national homeland, and driven wholly by criminal greed, racism and genocidal hate. 

The Holocaust and the long history of global antisemitism are problems for this narrative, because they appear to give Zionists a genuine and reasonable reason for wanting a Jewish homeland. So they need to be denied or dismissed.

Sometimes this has taken the form of Holocaust denial. Sometimes this takes the form of insisting that it was actually the Zionists who created the Holocaust together with the Nazis – a claim that Abbas himself made in his 1982 Masters thesis. 

Now, the claim appears to be:

  • Antisemitism is not a real thing because European Jews are not semites. (This is a stupid claim, because actually no one is a “semite”. “Semitic” refers to a group of languages and “Antisemitism” is a term coined by a German Jew hater in the 19th century as a fancy “scientific” word for Jew-hatred.)
  • The Holocaust was not about hatred of Jews as such, so Jews don’t need a homeland in response. 
  • European Jews are not real Jews anyway and have no historical claim to the land. Meanwhile, Middle Eastern Jews never wanted or needed a homeland, but were tricked into moving to Israel by the imperialist, not really Jewish, Zionists. 

Very convenient ways to shore up the Palestinian “narrative”, aren’t they? Apparently, Abbas and his circle believe that affirming these racist claims is essential to sustaining the Palestinian narrative’s insistence that the Jews have absolutely no genuine need for or claim to a homeland, while denying these claims makes one part of the nefarious imperialist/Zionist conspiracies against the Palestinians. This last belief appears especially clear in the wording of the crazed Fatah response to the Palestinian intellectuals. 


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