Prime Minister Yair Lapid and others in Israel, Germany and the US expressed shock and outrage Tuesday night, after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of committing “holocausts” against Palestinians over the years during a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin.
Abbas’s accusation, made during a press conference alongside Scholz, also drew calls for a harsher response from Germany and its leader, who has been criticized for remaining silent rather than pushing back and only later expressing displeasure with the remark.
“Abbas accusing Israel of having committed ’50 Holocausts’ while standing on German soil is not only a moral disgrace, but a monstrous lie,” Lapid tweeted in English. “History will not forgive him.”
Dani Dayan, chairman of Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum, called Abbas words “despicable” and “appalling.”
“The German government must respond appropriately to this inexcusable behavior done inside the Federal Chancellery,” he posted on social media.
Abbas was responding to a reporter’s question about the upcoming anniversary of the Munich massacre half a century ago. Eleven Israeli athletes and a German police officer died after members of the Palestinian militant group Black September took hostages at the Olympic Village on September 5, 1972. At the time of the attack, the group was linked to Abbas’s Fatah party.
Asked whether as Palestinian leader he planned to apologize to Israel and Germany for the attack ahead of the 50th anniversary, Abbas responded instead by citing allegations of atrocities committed by Israel since 1947.
“If we want to go over the past, go ahead,” Abbas, who was speaking Arabic, told the reporters.
“I have 50 slaughters that Israel committed….50 massacres, 50 slaughters, 50 holocausts,” he said, pronouncing the final word in English.
Mahmud #Abbas hat Israel gerade auf einer Pressekonferenz im Bundeskanzleramt wortwörtlich unterstellt, seit 1947 “50 Holocaust” begangen zu haben. Auf die gebotene Einordnung des Gesagten verzichtete @phoenix_de. pic.twitter.com/avlfyvzyUR
— Horacio Troche (@breisgau_uru) August 16, 2022
While Scholz had earlier rejected the Palestinian leader’s description of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as “apartheid,” he did not immediately rebuke Abbas for using the term “Holocaust.”
A spokesman for the chancellor later said that the press conference had been planned to end with the question to Abbas, meaning Scholz had no opportunity to respond. However, the spokesman told journalists who stayed after the event that Scholz had been outraged, German tabloid BILD reported.
In a statement to BILD, Scholz said that “Especially for us Germans, any relativization of the Holocaust is unbearable and unacceptable.” Germany has long argued the term should only be used to describe the Nazis’ singular crime of killing six million Jews before and during World War II.
Scholz was widely criticized for failing to speak out. Der Spiegel, Welt, Junge Freiheit, and other media outlets ran headlines noting his silence during the press conference. BILD expressed shock that there was “not a word of dissent in the face of the worst Holocaust relativization that a head of government has ever uttered in the chancellor’s office.”
Bundestag opposition leader Friedrich Merz, head of Germany’s powerful Christian Democrat party, said Scholz “should have contradicted the Palestinian President in no uncertain terms and asked him to leave the house!”
Scholz’s office, which normally posts statements on meetings with world leaders and other official business, did not put out a press release on the meeting with Abbas. On social media, Scholz was silent beyond a post mourning the death of German filmmaker Wolfgang Peterson.
Most of the backlash, though, was aimed at Abbas for refusing to apologize over the Munich massacre and for what critics said was trivializing the Holocaust.
Germany’s Ambassador to Israel Steffen Seibert called Abbas’s comments “wrong and unacceptable.”
“Germany will never stand for any attempt to deny the singular dimension of the crimes of the Holocaust,” he wrote on Twitter.
Former Christian Democrat leader Armin Laschet said Abbas’s statement was “the most disgusting speech ever heard in the German Chancellery.”
“The PLO leader would have gained sympathy if he had apologized for the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics 1972,” he said.
In the US, Deborah Lipstadt, the State Department’s anti-Semitism monitor, warned that Abbas’s “unacceptable” comments could have far-reaching consequences.
“Holocaust distortion can have dangerous consequences and fuels anti-Semitism,” tweeted Lipstadt, who famously battled Holocaust denier David Irving in court last century.
Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs shared Lapid’s condemnation and took Abbas to task for refusing to apologize.
“Mr. Abbas this is not how you advance the cause of peace. Leadership would have been to apologize for the murder of the Israeli Olympic athletes 50 years ago at the 1972 Munich games,” he tweeted.
Germany was already embroiled in controversy surrounding a planned commemoration marking the 50th anniversary of the Munich attack, after victims’ families announced they planned to boycott the ceremony over a disagreement with Berlin regarding compensation.
Relatives of the athletes have long accused Germany of failing to secure the Olympic Village, refusing Israeli help and botching a rescue operation in which five of the attackers also died.
Abbas has previously stirred up controversy for remarks on the Holocaust, including a 2018 claim that Jewish “social behavior” — not anti-Semitism — was the cause of Nazi Germany’s genocide of European Jews, which he later apologized for.
The PA leader’s 1982 doctoral dissertation was titled “The Other Side: the Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism,” and he has in the past been accused of denying the scope of the Holocaust. The dissertation reportedly claimed that the six million figure of Holocaust victims was hugely exaggerated and that Zionist leaders cooperated with the Nazis.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.