In a speech to a meeting of the Palestinian National Council held in Ramallah last week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas claimed:
• Ashkenazi Jews were not descended from the original Israelites and therefore had “no historical ties” to Israel.
• Israel was conceived as a European project: European politicians restricted Jewish immigration into their own countries but encouraged Jewish immigration to Israel. Israel was “a colonial enterprise that has nothing to do with Jewishness.”
• The Holocaust and earlier waves of persecution of Jews were not an expression of antisemitism but occurred “because of their (Jews’) social function (which) related to banks and interest.”
There does not appear to be an English-language translation of Abbas’s speech in full (which would help clarify his reported comments that Joseph Stalin was Jewish and his subsequent correction that he meant Karl Marx). But there is no dispute that Abbas made the above claims.
Dressed up as profound historical insights, and given a superficial gloss of “authenticity” by citing “three Jewish Zionist writers” as the source of his claims, Abbas’s comments were in fact straightforward antisemitic statements.
Labour’s shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, who was present at the meeting, was therefore right to condemn his comments:
“It is deeply regrettable that … President Abbas made these antisemitic remarks about the history of the Jewish community in Europe which were not just grossly offensive, but utterly ignorant.”
But Abbas’s comments also triggered a response of “whataboutery”.
Writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Gideon Levy challenged the demand that Abbas apologise for his comments on the basis that Israel had never apologised for the Nakba.
More validly, Levy pointed to the Israeli government’s double standards: It denounced Abbas’s antisemitic comments, but has remained silent on the consistent and overt antisemitism of right-wing political leaders in power in Eastern Europe.
Of course, the right-wing Likud-led Israeli government is using Abbas’s comments to promote its own political agenda, one which involves denying Palestinians a state of their own. But that does not make Abbas’s comments any less antisemitic and less worthy of condemnation.
At the same time, Abbas’s comments – on which he has form: in his doctoral dissertation of 1982 Abbas claimed that the Holocaust was the product of Nazi-Zionist collaboration, and that it was a “myth” that six million Jews had been murdered – should not be allowed to detract from the justness of the Palestinian cause.
The politics of Palestinian political leaders like Abbas do not invalidate the right of Palestinians to an independent Palestinian state, any more than the politics of Israel’s Likud government invalidate the right of Israel to exist.