The Foreign Office has expressed its “deep concern” after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas blamed the Holocaust on the “social function” of Jews.
Mr Abbas was widely condemned this week after he claimed the Nazi murder of millions of Jews was the result of Jewish moneylending. He described Jews’ “social function” as “usury and banking and such”.
In a statement today, Alistair Burt, Middle East Minister said that to “explain away any element of the Holocaust is unacceptable” and that Mr Abbas’s comments undermined the interests of Palestinians and hindered the peace process.
Mr Burt added: “At a highly sensitive time in the region, when we must all look forwards and work urgently towards a resolution of the longstanding issues between Israel and the Palestinian people, the fundamentals of peace cannot be built on views of the Holocaust which fly in the face of history.
“Palestinian President Abbas’s comments at the Palestinian National Congress were deeply concerning. Any attempt to justify or explain away any element of the Holocaust is unacceptable.
“President Abbas has shown a commitment to non-violence and a two-state solution. But his recent rhetoric does not serve the interests of the Palestinian people and is deeply unhelpful to the cause of peace.”
Mr Abbas, 82, who has faced accusations of antisemitism and Holocaust denial in the past, was speaking at a rare meeting of the Palestinian National Council on Monday.
He also claimed Israel was a European colonial project that had nothing to do with Judaism, and denied that Ashkenazi Jews counted as Semitic people.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the speech “antisemitic and pathetic”.
The European Union said Mr Abbas’s remarks were “unacceptable” and accused him of “grossly trivialising the Holocaust”.
Mr Abbas has been accused of Holocaust denial in the past, saying in 1984 that it was a “myth” and a “fantastic lie” that six million Jews were killed in the Shoah.
He also said in 2013 that he “challenges anyone who can deny that the Zionist movement had ties with the Nazis before World War Two”.
Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, had been at the Ramallah conference when Mr Abbas made the comments but did not initially respond to them.
She later said: “It is deeply regrettable that, during a lengthy speech whose main and successful purpose was to urge the Palestinian National Council to remain committed to the Middle East peace process and the objective of a two-state solution, President Abbas made these antisemitic remarks about the history of the Jewish community in Europe which were not just grossly offensive, but utterly ignorant.”