Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is no stranger to absurd statements that demonstrate a lack of wisdom or depth. Nor are his policies and actions easy to interpret or justifiable in the larger context of the Palestinian struggle for liberation.
This also applies to his comments regarding the crime of the Nazi Holocaust perpetrated against the Jews of Europe, during a speech to members of his Fatah movement in Ramallah in late August.
However, the fiery Palestinian Open Letter condemning those statements, signed by over 200 Palestinian academics, activists, artists and others, was scarcely less strange or lacking in wisdom than Abbas’ words.
Perhaps unintentionally, the authors and signatories slipped as he did, consequently derailing the discussion from Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people to implicitly apologizing to Israel – whose representatives instigated the storm of outrage at Abbas’ remarks.
“This apology feeds the perception that Palestinians – much in the manner that Muslims have experienced in the two decades since 9/11 – are collectively responsible for what any other Palestinian says or does, and must therefore dissociate themselves from it.”
Founded by Israeli intelligence veteran
It should be recalled that Abbas’ comments were publicized and disseminated by the anti-Muslim Zionist propaganda outlet MEMRI.
MEMRI, founded and run by a former senior Israeli military intelligence officer, is notoriously known for targeting activists, preachers, media professionals, artists and academics, Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and other critics of Israel.
It is also known for distortion and taking words out of context – although it is unclear how much additional context could have excused Abbas’ comments on this occasion, given how he has expressed similar views before.
With such remarks, Abbas only provides propaganda fodder to Israel and its lobby groups like MEMRI, whose mission is to exploit any opportunity to change the subject from Israel’s crimes, set the public and media agenda and paint Palestinians in a bad light.
It is noteworthy that among those who signed the open letter condemning Abbas were individuals who are themselves previous targets of this suspicious organization.
In any case, this does not negate the lack of truth in Abbas’ statements, including that Hitler did not kill Jews because of their religion and identity but rather because of their “social role” in matters related to “usury, money and so on.”
Palestinians pay for Europe’s crimes
This is an issue that has nothing to do with Palestinians at all, except in terms of how Israel and the imperialist powers supporting it use the European crime of the Holocaust to justify the settler-colonization of Palestine by a Zionist movement that claims falsely to represent all Jews everywhere.
Palestinians have paid and continue to pay a hefty price for atrocities in Europe that they had no part in. The price has been exacted from them by the same European states that created the racist culture of anti-Semitism – and ultimately genocide.
Worse, Palestinians were victimized in the name of the Holocaust by many who were victims of it. Indeed, at least 22,000 soldiers, or half of the Zionist army’s fighting force that ethnically cleansed and conquered Palestine in 1948, were Holocaust survivors.
Therefore, there is no logic at all in denying or distorting a crime that Germany, along with its collaborators and accomplices across Europe, admits to having committed.
This is their crime: The collective guilt is their problem and they must own it.
Although the crime of genocide was defined in the modern era, it is not new as Indigenous peoples in the Americas, as well as the peoples afflicted by Western genocidal imperialism in Africa, Asia, and Oceania can attest.
The Nazi genocide of Jews in Europe is not an exception in this context. War crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide are something that Muslims in Europe experienced in Bosnia and Herzegovina at the beginning of the 1990s, and in Kosovo at the end of the same decade.
Returning to the open letter, it is notable that many if not most of those who signed it reside in the United States and Europe. The irony is that these figures – some of whom are friends or individuals with whom I share common work opposing Israeli occupation and other crimes – have never mobilized in this manner and scale to condemn the destructive and disastrous policies of Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority against the Palestinian people and their cause.
If their criticism of Abbas due to his inaccurate statements about the Holocaust had come within a clear, continuous, persistent and well-defined approach, the matter might have been understandable. But it appeared as an exceptional intervention amid collective silence on issues of existential importance to Palestinians.
Sharpening the Zionist sword
I do not find myself disagreeing with some of the content of the open letter in relation to Abbas’s statements, but this does not mean I am satisfied with its language or intent.
For example, its signatories say they seek to lift the burden of Abbas’s statements from the Palestinian people because they are “sufficiently burdened by Israeli settler-colonialism, dispossession, occupation and oppression without having to bear the negative effect of such ignorant and profoundly anti-Semitic narratives perpetuated by those who claim to speak in our name.”
However, by invoking the accusation of anti-Semitism against Abbas, the signatories have sharpened the same Zionist sword, which is pointed at the necks of the Palestinian people and its activists based on the false claim that they are inherently anti-Semitic.
It is therefore not surprising that pro-Israel media and officials celebrated the open letter even though many of the signatories are themselves regularly accused by Zionists of anti-Semitism solely for calling Israel an apartheid state or because they shine a light on its crimes.
Given this fact it is most bizarre that the open letter’s signers state that they “adamantly reject any attempt to diminish, misrepresent or justify anti-Semitism, Nazi crimes against humanity, or historical revisionism vis-a-vis the Holocaust” while at the same time they say nothing about the increasing weaponization of anti-Semitism accusations against the Palestinian people, their supporters and their liberation struggle.
As for criticism of Abbas’ actions outside his Holocaust comments, the open letter states mildly that “We are also burdened by the PA’s increasingly authoritarian and draconian rule, which disproportionately impacts those living under occupation.”
It adds, “having held onto power nearly a decade and a half after his presidential mandate expired in 2009, supported by Western and pro-Israel forces seeking to perpetuate Israeli apartheid, Abbas and his political entourage have forfeited any claim to represent the Palestinian people and our struggle for justice, freedom and equality, a struggle that stands against all forms of systemic racism and oppression.”
I wish we had seen such collective outrage coming from the group, independent of Abbas’ miserable statements about the Holocaust, focusing on the official Palestinian leadership’s systematic destruction of the Palestinian national project, its record of crimes against its own people, its security collaboration with the occupation and its role in the siege on the Gaza Strip.
Unfortunately, none of that happened, and thus potentially the most important point of the open letter was lost in a self-aggrandizing effort to rebuke Abbas for his ignorance of history.
Abbas’ abhorrent statements about the Holocaust are nothing but a mere expression of a deeper structural crisis of Palestinian leadership.
How can someone like this man rule a vibrant, young, educated and heroic people like the Palestinians? How can we remain silent that this man and the authority he heads are doing the dirty work on behalf of the apartheid state of Israel?
How can we accept that Israel uses Abbas and his authority as a scalpel to tear apart the Palestinian body politic?
Dr. Osama Abu Irshaid is executive director of American Muslims for Palestine.