The comments quickly prompted backlash in and outside of Israel. “With utmost ignorance and brazen gall, he claimed that European Jews were persecuted and murdered not because they were Jews but because they gave loans with interest,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted. “Again, he has recited the most contemptible anti-Semitic canards.”
Abbas has long been accused of denying or undermining the Holocaust. His doctoral dissertation questioned whether the death toll of 6 million Jews might have been inflated, and he argued that Zionists and Nazis worked together to send Jews to present-day Israel. But he has at times seemed to take a different stance: In 2003, Abbas said that the Holocaust was “a terrible, unforgivable crime against the Jewish nation, a crime against humanity that cannot be accepted by humankind”; in 2014, he issued a statement in which he called the Holocaust “the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era.”
Still, Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement that Abbas’s “latest diatribe reflects once again the depth and persistency of the anti-Semitic attitudes he harbors.”
Abbas’s remarks come at a time of deep tension between the Palestinians, Israel and the Trump administration: In less than two weeks, the United States will open an embassy in Jerusalem after Trump recognized the city as Israel's capital, a move that has drawn global condemnation. Recent weekly protests by Palestinians in Gaza, which have led to deadly clashes between civilians and Israeli military forces, have increased the ill feeling.
American officials joined in the condemnation of Abbas's remarks. David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, said Abbas had “reached a new low.” And President Trump’s special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Jason Greenblatt, tweeted that Abbas’s remarks should be “unconditionally condemned by all.”
The European Union foreign service in Brussels also condemned Abbas’s speech, calling his opinions on the Holocaust unacceptable. “Such rhetoric will only play into the hands of those who do not want a two-state solution, which President Abbas has repeatedly advocated,” the European External Action Service said on Wednesday.
Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations’ special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, accused Abbas of using his speech “to repeat some of the most contemptuous anti-Semitic slurs."
“The Holocaust did not occur in a vacuum, it was the result of thousands of years of persecution,” he said in a statement. “Leaders have an obligation to confront anti-Semitism everywhere and always, not perpetuate the conspiracy theories that fuel it.”
Ruth Eglash contributed to this report from Jerusalem.