Mahmoud Abbas apologises, condemns anti-Semitism

Palestinian president says he did not intend to offend Jews after remarks draw condemnation by international bodies.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas waves in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank
Abbas called the Holocaust "as the most heinous crime in history" [File: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters]

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said “he fully respects the Jewish faith” as he issued a statement apologising for remarks earlier this week.

During the opening session of the Palestine National Congress (PNC) on Monday, Abbas had said that hatred of Jews in Europe before the Holocaust was related to their social behaviour, including money-lending, rather than religion.

In a statement on Friday, Abbas said it was not his intention to offend Jews and condemned “anti-Semitism in all its forms”.

“If people were offended by my statement in front of the PNC, especially people of the Jewish faith, I apologise to them. I would like to assure everyone that it was not my intention to do so, and to reiterate my full respect for the Jewish faith, as well as other monotheistic faiths,” Palestinian news agency Wafa quoted him as saying.

“I would also like to reiterate our long-held condemnation of the Holocaust, as the most heinous crime in history, and express our sympathy with its victims,” added Abbas.

Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from the Gaza-Israel border, where protests continue for the sixth Friday in a row, said that Abbas’ opening PNC speech “was interpreted by many people around the world that it’s just another encapsulation of anti-Semitic prejudice and that by talking about their social behaviour he was giving some kind of legitimacy to anti-Jewish persecution, even the Holocaust”.

Fawcett said Abbas’ statement on Friday “seemed to be the result of the condemnation he got from the EU and the UN … the very sort of institutions and bodies that he wants to see as alternative partners in a peace process going forward”, having rejected the role of the United States in the wake of President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel capital.

Senior Palestinian leader Saeb Erekat on Thursday issued statement defending Abbas, saying he was disturbed by the accusation that suggested the PA president was an “anti-Semite” or opposed to peace negotiations.

Erekat said “Abbas has repeatedly referred to the Holocaust as the most heinous crime in history. President Abbas is a man of peace who has dedicated his entire political career to finding a just and lasting peace based on International law, freedom, justice, equality and coexistence between Israel and Palestine.”

“Our problem is not with Judaism but with the systematic denial of our rights committed by Israel,” added Erekat.

Commenting on the accusations that Abbas is an “anti-Semite” or a Holocaust denier, Palestinian leader Mustafa Barghouti told Al Jazeera that Abbas’ words were taken out of context.

“These accusations against Abbas were untrue,” he said.

Barghouti said that those who accused Abbas of being an anti-Semite did so in order to distract the world from the real issue, which is the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and lethal repression of peaceful Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza.

Source: Al Jazeera