Abbas's Berlin press conference confirmed a deep truth about the Palestinian president

We should stop taking him as we want him to be and focus on what he actually is


BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 16: Mahmoud Abbas (L), President of the Palestinian National Authority, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz shake hands after speaking to the media following talks at the Chancellery on August 16, 2022 in Berlin, Germany. The two leaders discussed bilateral issues, the current situation in the Palestinian territories as well as perspectives on a possible peace process between Palestine and Israel. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

August 17, 2022 13:59

Here’s your Starter For 10: Which current serving president believes that the Jews were responsible for the Holocaust? 

We’ll come back to that in a moment. Let’s ignore the usual University Challenge rules and deal with the follow up question first: Which current serving president is happy to stand by mutely while another president goes off on one about the Holocaust?

First, it’s a trick question. It’s not a president, it’s a chancellor. Yup — it’s German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Which brings us to the Chancellery in Berlin on Tuesday, where Chancellor Scholz gave a press conference with his guest, President Mahmoud Abbas. The latter was asked if he would apologise for the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre of Israeli athletes.  

His response was to rant about Israel inflicting “50 Holocausts” on the Palestinians: “If we want to dig further into the past, yes, please, I have 50 massacres that were committed by Israel. Which were also recorded in documentaries … 50 massacres, 50 Holocausts, and to this day every day we have dead people killed by the Israeli army.”

Scholz’s response to that? He shook Abbas’s hand and ended the press conference.

Reading yet another column pointing out that Scholz is a dunderhead isn’t, I grant you, the most useful of ways to spend an August afternoon, so let’s leave the German chancellor there, save to say that he eventually issued a statement hours later, after an eruption of fury from his fellow countrymen, saying that “I am disgusted by the outrageous remarks made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. For us Germans in particular, any trivialisation of the singularity of the Holocaust is intolerable and unacceptable. I condemn any attempt to deny the crimes of the Holocaust.” Which only goes to show that late is actually no better than never.

Let’s return to the original question. It’s possible, I suppose, that they had a version of University Challenge in the Soviet Union. In which case doctoral student Mahmoud Abbas would have been an ideal candidate to answer any questions on antisemitism and Holocaust denial from a — put it this way — position of great practical knowledge. Young Mahmoud completed his studies at the People’s Friendship University of Russia where in 1982 he earned a PhD with his ground breaking thesis, The Other Side: the Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism.

Abbas’ thesis argues that the Zionists helped the Nazis to prompt more support for their plans. (We’ve heard that notion more recently, too, somewhere else, haven’t we, er, Ken?) “The Zionist movement led a broad campaign of incitement against the Jews living under Nazi rule,” he writes, “in order to arouse the government’s hatred of them, to fuel vengeance against them, and to expand the mass extermination.” The Zionists were the Nazi regime’s “basic partner in crime.” 

And for good measure he adds that six million dead is a made up figure to prompt sympathy. The real number who were killed, Abbas tells us, was around a million.

But in 2003 he told Haaretz: “The Holocaust was a terrible, unforgiveable crime against the Jewish nation, a crime against humanity that cannot be accepted by humankind. The Holocaust was a terrible thing and nobody can claim I denied it.” This statement has been used to portray Abbas’s thesis as some sort of youthful mistake which the mature statesman has moved on from — to show that Abbas is the man so many in the West want him to be.

His statement, however, demonstrates nothing of the sort. When he wrote his thesis in 1982 he did not ‘deny’ a Holocaust took place. Rather, he distorted and warped it — changing the very nature of the Shoah (and the number murdered) so the blame for their death lies with the Jews themselves. (He reiterated all these assertions in 2013 to Al-Mayadeen, an Iran-sympathising TV channel in Lebanon.)

On Wednesday he ‘clarified’ his remarks in Berlin, saying that “the Holocaust is the most heinous crime in modern human history.” Credulous fools have again ignored what Abbas actually means by that.

It’s time we stopped projecting what we want Abbas to be and focused on what he actually is, using his own words. In a speech in 2018 he informed us that Israel is a “colonialist project that had nothing to do with Judaism” — to such an extent that European Jews chose to stay in their homes and be murdered rather than live in Palestine. Do I have to point out the moral degeneracy of such a proposition? It would seem so, given the persistent refusal of so many to take Abbas for what he actually is.

Tuesday’s events in Berlin are, in the scheme things, trivial. But as so often, a larger truth is confirmed by trivialities.

August 17, 2022 13:59

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive