Last week Mahmoud Abbas launched another spiteful, ignorant and racist diatribe against Jews. In a speech to the National Palestinian Council in Ramallah, he surveyed the persecution of Jews throughout history, culminating in the Holocaust, and asked why this had happened. “Hostility against Jews is not because of their religion, but rather their social behaviour, [charging] interest, and financial matters.” He went on to assert that Jews never suffered under Arab rule, presumably because they adopted different behaviour.
The notion that Jews are responsible for their own persecution is a classic anti-Semitic trope. Unsurprisingly, Abbas’ comments brought condemnation from across the world.
Of course, Abbas has twisted history before. He wrote a doctoral dissertation at Patrice Lumumba University which was turned into a 1984 book, The Other Side: The Secret Relationship between Nazism and Zionism. This work accused Jews of fabricating the number of 6 million dead and quoted for support the notorious Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson.
Abbas also accused the Zionists of collaborating with the Nazis and of being responsible for exaggerating Jewish victims to garner political support after the war. Subsequently, following international pressure, he issued statements denouncing the Holocaust as a “terrible, unforgivable crime”.
There is an obvious reason why the Holocaust has been denied, minimised or justified by Palestinian leaders: if Jewish victimhood, especially during the Second World War, is fabricated or exaggerated, in Palestinian eyes there can be no justification for a Jewish state.
Simply put, much of the Arab world believes that the Holocaust is the only reason ‘the West’ gave Palestine to the Zionists. Europeans, according to this view, perpetrated a crime (with Zionist collaboration) and then made a Middle Eastern people pay the price.
Naturally, the Palestinian Authority is desperate to cover up the truth about collaboration, namely that the Palestinian leader Mohammed Amin al-Husseini was thoroughly supportive of Nazi extermination plans, having met Hitler in Berlin.
More importantly, Jewish claims to Israel long predated the Holocaust, even if Hitler’s genocide added an important layer of moral justification. The primary justification for a Jewish homeland is the presence of Jews in the land stretching back four millennia, a presence that owed nothing to western powers.
Naturally, the PA disseminates the myth that Jews are colonial usurpers with no historical claim. That is why Abbas has questioned whether a Jewish temple ever existed in Jerusalem and why he tried to persuade Unesco that holy Jewish sites, such as the Patriarchs’ Tomb, were actually mosques.
But there is another reason for Holocaust inversion. Today, Palestinian identity is intimately bound up with victimhood. It is reinforced every time another UN resolution is passed in favour of Palestinian rights, and whenever Naqba Day is commemorated. Victimhood is also reinforced by the largesse of western countries that have poured billions of dollars of aid into the territories.
But the Holocaust reminds the PA that Jews and Israelis have been victims too. Moreover, despite the horrors they suffered, the Jews seized control of their own destiny, built a state and created a national success story that is the envy of the world.
All of this undermines the special victim status that the Palestinians have constructed for themselves, the notion that they alone deserve the world’s sympathy and that they must play the eternal role of victim and never that of a responsible actor.
A genuine peace requires a fundamental change of narrative. Weaponising the Holocaust only reinforces the bitter hatred that has been allowed to fester for so many decades, destroying any chance for co-existence.