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Palestinian leader walks back Holocaust statement after outrage

Abbas had been called out for 'monstrous lie' of 50 Holocausts committed by Israel against Palestinians

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas answers questions from journalists at a press conference after his talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Aug. 16, 2022 (Photo: DPA/Picture Alliance)

A day after invoking widespread international outrage for comparing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the Holocaust, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walked back his comments saying, "the Holocaust is the most heinous crime in modern human history."

According to Wafa – the Palestinian news agency, Abbas was referring to "the crimes and massacres committed against the Palestinian people since the Nakba at the hands of the Israeli forces. These crimes have not stopped to this day."

Abbas on Tuesday accused Israel of committing "50 Holocausts" against the Palestinians, when asked by a reporter whether he regretted the murder of 11 Israelis by Palestinians 50 years ago at the Munich Olympics.

“If we want to go over the past, go ahead,” Abbas responded in Arabic while standing next to Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz. “I have 50 slaughters that Israel committed...50 massacres, 50 slaughters...”

Then he switched to English and used the words, “50 Holocausts.”

The Palestinian leader clarified his statement on Wednesday saying that he did not deny "the singularity of the Holocaust that occurred in the last century, and condemning it in the strongest terms."

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who met with Abbas several times in the past year, was among many who condemned Abbas' statements.

"The reprehensible and unfounded comparison between the Holocaust, which was carried out by the German Nazis and their enablers in an attempt to exterminate the Jewish people – and the IDF, which ensured the rise of the Jewish people in their homeland, and defends the citizens of Israel and the country’s sovereignty against brutal terrorism – is Holocaust denial," he said. "Those who seek peace are expected to acknowledge the past and not to distort reality and rewrite history. We will continue to learn from history, including its dark and terrible parts, strive for peace and defend the security and resilience of the Jewish people.”

At the press conference, Scholz looked shocked, but did not contradict Abbas. He later told a German newspaper that the use of the word is “unbearable and unacceptable.”

On Wednesday, Scholz wrote on Twitter: “I am disgusted by the outrageous remarks made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. For us Germans in particular, any relativization of the singularity of the Holocaust is intolerable and unacceptable. I condemn any attempt to deny the crimes of the Holocaust.”

Abbas’ comments drew instant and furious backlash from across Israel.

“Mahmoud Abbas accusing Israel of having committed ’50 Holocausts’ while standing on German soil is not only a moral disgrace, but a monstrous lie,” Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said on social media. "Six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, including one and a half million Jewish children. History will never forgive him.”

Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett noted that during his tenure, he refused to meet with Abbas. 

“As prime minister, I did not agree to meet Abu Mazen, or promote any political negotiations with him, even in the face of domestic and foreign pressures. A ‘partner’ who denies the Holocaust, persecutes our soldiers in The Hague and pays salaries to terrorists is not a partner,” Bennett said. 

Germany’s BILD newspaper emblazoned the headline “Anti-Semitism scandal at the federal chancellery” on its website and noted its shock that “not a word of dissent [was offered] in the face of the worst Holocaust relativization that a head of government has ever uttered in the chancellor’s office.”

Conservative German lawmaker Armin Laschet called Abbas’ comments “disgusting.”

“The (Palestinian) leader would have gained sympathy if he had apologized for the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics 1972,” he wrote on Twitter. “Accusing Israel of ‘50 Holocausts’ instead is the most disgusting speech ever heard in the German Chancellery.”

German Ambassador to Israel Steffen Seibert said, "Germany will always stand against any attempt to deny the tremendous dimensions of the crimes committed during the Holocaust."

The Anti-Defamation League said on Twitter that this type of "hateful rhetoric simply unacceptable." 

"There's no justification for invoking the Holocaust when speaking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – in Germany of all places. He must immediately retract his statement," the organization said.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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