While many heard Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas’s March 19th response to US Ambassador David Friedman’s comments regarding Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the significance of these comments appears to have been missed.
In calling Ambassador Friedman “a son of a dog settler”, it was not the revelation of Abbas’s disdain toward the Ambassador that was shocking, but rather, his choice of words. While Abbas has in the past stood up against anti-Semitism in the Palestinian Authority, famously recalling his ambassador to Chile for quoting from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, his own history of anti-semitic diatribes is notable.
Past outbursts have included calling the State of Israel the result of a Western conspiracy to settle Jews in Arab lands and denying any Jewish historical connection to the land whatsoever. If we examine Abbas’s history a bit further, we can see even more severe instances of blatant anti-Semitism, leading among them his 1984 book, based on his own doctoral thesis, positing that the murder of six million Jews was a “fantastic lie”.
Abbas similarly suggested that those Jews who were indeed murdered by the Nazis, were actually the victims of a Zionist plot which intentionally sought to fuel Nazi hatred against the Jews and encourage their mass extermination for political purposes.
Despite Abbas’ clarification that these comments were a product of propaganda in the Palestinian war against Israel and his promise not to repeat such opinions during the peace process, does the seeming absence of a prospect for peace justify the return to rhetoric that mainstream politicians haven’t felt comfortable expressing in over half a century.
Is Abbas’s reference to the US Ambassador simply a slip of the tongue? Or is it perhaps representative of a larger problem endemic to the Palestinian Authority leadership, namely anti-semitism? There is almost not a week that goes by where the Palestinian government funded media can restrain itself from passing anti-Semitic commentary.
Ranging from epitaphs that deny the Holocaust, to children’s programs that glorify the murder of Jews, to erasing Jewish history, Palestinian media is rife with overt instances of anti-Semitism.
It is anti-Semitism of the vintage kind: far beyond the new anti-Semitism, which takes the form of one-sided and hypocritical singling-out of the State of Israel in political discourse, Palestinian anti-Semitism remains the sort in which Jews are the descendants of apes and pigs, seeking to control the world.
While one can debate the standard according to which we measure whether or not something is indeed anti-Semitic, what we can agree upon is how counter-productive statements such as those of the Palestinian Premier are to the prospects of peace.
Although such comments only used to be made in front of an Arabic-speaking audience, Abbas no longer appears to feel inhibited to publicly express views of this nature in English.
In spite of recently reaffirming his commitment to the creation of a State of Palestine that “lives side by side with Israel in safety, security and good neighbourliness”, it is apparent that the underlying hostile conditions created by Abbas through such statements, does not foster the environment necessary for such a dream to come to fruition.
Repeating anti-Semitic mantras that, in most parts of the world long ago dissipated is, simply put, not conducive to a sustainable peace.
There is no use feigning surprise when such comments are understood by Palestinian teenagers as justifying their decision to perpetrate attacks against innocent Jewish civilians.
When the Palestinian Ministry of Education introduces text books that portray a world without Israel, it is no wonder that some on the Palestinian street actively seek to make such a world closer by way of senseless murder.
Regardless of his disdain for the current American administration, it would serve Abbas well to learn a lesson from the founding fathers of the nation he holds in such contempt.
It was Thomas Jefferson who said that, “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government”.
These objectives are not served by Abbas’s dehumanization of the American Ambassador particularly, and of Jews more generally.
If Abbas cannot abandon the overtly anti-Semitic populist rhetoric which his Palestinian Authority has been employing as of late, he should not be surprised when the President of the United States decides to cut American aid to the Palestinian government.
Threatening to kill the already-moribund peace process, instead of considering how the Palestinian side contributed to its demise, is a response that is not conducive to reviving the negotiations. What might prove infinitely more helpful is a critical self-evaluation by the Palestinian Authority of the anti-Semitism rampant at the top of its ranks.
- Shlomo Roiter Jesner is a final year HSPS student at Hughes Hall specializing in politics and international relations and the University of Cambridge Camera on Campus Fellow