JERUSALEM, Israel – In a speech Monday evening in Ramallah at the opening of the Palestinian National Council meeting, PA President Mahmoud Abbas provided a captive audience with what he called a "history lesson."
The Holocaust, he said, was not based on anti-Semitism but rather on Jewish "social behavior."
According to Abbas, the social behavior of European Jews, especially related to banking and financial matters, was the real cause of the genocide.
He went on to argue that non-Jews facilitated the establishment of Israel calling it "a colonial project that has nothing to do with Judaism." He cited Britain's Lord Balfour, author of the Balfour Declaration, as one example. The Balfour Declaration called for the establishment of a Jewish homeland.
Holocaust denial is by no means new for the 82-year-old president. In 1982, Abbas titled his doctoral thesis, "The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism." In his thesis, he alleged that the number of Jewish Holocaust victims – 6 million – was greatly exaggerated and that Jewish leaders collaborated with the Third Reich.
Abbas even credited Nazi leader Adolph Hitler with helping Jews immigrate to British Mandated Palestine by facilitating a banking arrangement allowing Jews to transfer some of their assets to a bank there.
Jewish leaders across the political spectrum, both in Israel and abroad, called the history lesson unacceptable.
Israel's Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning his remarks.
"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs strongly rejects the Holocaust-denying, anti-Semitic content of the speech delivered by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmud Abbas yesterday (Tuesday, 1 May 2018) before the Palestinian legislature in Ramallah and broadcast live on television. In the speech, Chairman Abbas blamed the Jews for their own destruction, using anti-Semitic stereotypes and accusations taken from the lexicon of classic antisemitism.
"National leadership driven by such an ideology is unacceptable, and the shockingly anti-Semitic statements expressed repeatedly by the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority cannot and should not be tolerated," the statement read.
In a tweet posted Tuesday night, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said Abbas had "reached a new low."
Abu Mazen has reached a new low in attributing the cause of massacres of Jewish people over the years to their "social behavior relating to interest and banks." To all those who think Israel is the reason that we don't have peace, think again.
— David M. Friedman (@USAmbIsrael) May 1, 2018
Jason Greenblatt, the Trump administration's special representative for international negotiations called his remarks "very unfortunate, very disheartening and terribly distressing."
President Abbas' remarks yesterday in Ramallah at the opening of the Palestinian National Congress must be unconditionally condemned by all. They are very unfortunate, very distressing & terribly disheartening. Peace cannot be built on this kind of foundation.
— Jason D. Greenblatt (@jdgreenblatt45) May 1, 2018
Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett said the PA leader is "drenched in anti-Semitism from head to toe," the Jerusalem Post reported.
"He continues the tradition of his predecessors, the Grand Mufti, who was a friend of Hitler, and [the late PLO chairman Yasser] Arafat, an arch-murderer of Jews," the Post quoted Bennett as saying.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein called Abbas "a racist and inciter."
"The anti-Semite is out of the bag," the Post quoted Edelstein. "Mahmoud Abbas, a small and irrelevant man, has revealed in the last few days…what he truly thinks of the State of Israel and Jews...The man who funds families of terrorists who massacred and are massacring us, will go down in history as a Holocaust denier, racist and inciter, if at all."
Abbas has often rejected a Jewish connection to Israel, biblical or otherwise. He has made so many outlandish statements over the years that it's hard to keep track of them.
Criticism came from abroad as well.
In a phone interview Tuesday evening with the Times of Israel, Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt called Abbas's speech "classic anti-Semitism."
"Here's a man who started his career denying the Holocaust and now, at the latter stages of his career, seems to be engaging in rewriting the history of the Holocaust and classic anti-Semitism," Lipstadt said. "It's classic anti-Semitism, classic blame the victim…This brings one back directly to his dissertation, to his distortion of history."
Abbas wound up his lengthy speech by restating his rejection of US President Donald Trump, both the peace plan and the embassy move in less than two weeks.
Abbas said he convened the meeting of Palestinian legislators, the first since 2006, to facilitate a united front against Israel and the United States before the US embassy move on May 14.
Hamas opposed the meeting, saying it should wait until the formation of a unity government – a goal that has never been achieved as the two rival factions vie for power.