JERUSALEM — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has walked back on comments he made that accused Israeli rabbis of calling for the poisoning of Palestinian water wells. He apologized for offending Jewish people around the world with a classic anti-Semitic trope.
During a speech he made Thursday at the European Parliament in Brussels, Abbas said: “Only a week ago, a number of rabbis in Israel announced, and made a clear announcement, demanding that their government poison the water to kill the Palestinians. Isn't that clear incitement to commit mass killings against the Palestinian people?”
His comments were largely debunked by international news outlets.
They were also flatly denied by the Israelis, who compared Abbas’s words to the anti-Semitic blood libels of medieval Europe.
On Friday night, the Palestinian leader’s bureau issued a statement saying that it has now become evident that statements by a rabbi on poisoning Palestinian water, which were reported by various Arab media outlets last week, were “baseless.”
“Palestine is the cradle of the three monotheistic faiths. We stand strongly against any attack on any religion,” read the statement released in English. “President Mahmoud Abbas has affirmed that he didn’t intend to do harm to Judaism or to offend Jewish people around the world.”
The alleged rabbinical edict was first reported by Turkish news agency Anadolu. It said that a “Rabbi Shlomo Mlma, chairman of the Council of Rabbis in the West Bank settlements,” had issued an advisory to allow Jewish settlers to take such action, Reuters reported.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry, on its website, also cited the rabbi’s words and demanded he be arrested. It was later widely reported by other Arab news outlets.
But Reuters and none of the other news agencies in Israel were able to locate any rabbi named Shlomo Mlma or Mlmad, and there is no record of an organization called the Council of Rabbis in the West Bank.
Abbas was in Brussels last week to meet with European officials who are hoping to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. They had also invited Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and European Parliament President Martin Schulz in the hope the two presidents would meet.
Abbas, however, turned down the invitation to meet Rivlin and even went so far as changing hotels because the two were staying in the same place.