The reaction to Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas’s recent remarks about the Holocaust illustrates a strange phenomenon: Palestinian leaders say something horrific about the Holocaust, at which the world expresses outrage and dismay. Sometime later, Palestinian leaders say something horrific about the Holocaust, at which the world expresses outrage and dismay. Then the process starts all over again.
Abbas’s remarks were a particularly spectacular case only because of where and to whom Abbas made his statement: in Germany, in front of the German chancellor, at a press conference before the international media. As a result of this backdrop, Abbas’ expectoration, “I have 50 slaughters that Israel committed … 50 massacres, 50 slaughters, 50 holocausts,” proved a massive miscalculation, provoking condemnation from all except the most reliable apologists.
But what Abbas said was nothing particularly unusual. It is, in fact, something of a cliché in Palestinian discourse. The Palestinians and their supporters around the world regularly belittle, appropriate, deny and celebrate the Holocaust. These sentiments have long since trickled down to street level, and I myself knew a German visitor to Israel who was once straightforwardly asked, “Why didn’t you finish the job?” by a pair of Palestinian tour guides.
There are several reasons for this strange perversity. First, while Israel was not created “because” of the Holocaust, the Holocaust is a very good argument for a Jewish state. It conclusively demonstrated that nothing can guarantee Jewish safety and security except a Jewish state and a Jewish army capable of doing so. The world can wax poetic about its tolerance, openness and compassion as much as it likes, but the Holocaust showed that, when it comes to the Jews, these are, at best, a very bitter joke. The Jews can hardly be blamed for learning this lesson and acting accordingly.
This presents the Palestinians with a rather terrible question: If Zionism is such an abomination, what exactly are the Jews supposed to do? Live forever in exile and powerlessness? Submit themselves to the kindness of the world when the Holocaust is conclusive evidence that this is suicidal? The Palestinians, like all anti-Zionists, have no answer to this question, because there is none. To avoid the question by denying or distorting the Holocaust is, in effect, their only alternative.
There is also the uncomfortable fact that the Palestinians themselves bear some responsibility for the Holocaust. As Edy Cohen, a scholar at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, has pointed out, fervent Nazi collaborator Haj-Amin al-Husseini, the one-time mufti of Jerusalem, was “the founder of the modern Palestinian national movement, the spiritual father of Yasser Arafat and Abbas himself.” He also “lived in Nazi Germany from 1941-1945, endorsed the Nazis and their aims, recruited Muslim soldiers for them, incited against the Jews and knew of and supported the Final Solution.”
This is, of course, ironic, given that Palestinians and their supporters regularly compare Israel and Zionism to the Nazis and Nazism. In practice, however, it means that the Palestinians must in one manner or another elide or erase the Holocaust because, as Cohen noted, “The truth about the mufti threatens the Palestinian national movement with its own dark history of racism and violence.”
As too few have noted in the days following Abbas’s latest statements, the Palestinian jefe himself is no exception to this. Cohen revealed that Abbas’ book The Other Face, written decades ago in the Soviet Union, falsely claimed that less than a million Jews died at Nazi hands, citing well-known Holocaust deniers like Robert Faurisson in order to do so. Abbas also asserted, with presumed glee, the lie that the Zionist movement collaborated in the Holocaust and is now following in Hitler’s footsteps. In Abbas’s mind, what he said before the German chancellor and the world press was simply speaking truth to power.
It should come as no surprise, however, that Abbas and the Palestinians, in general, are unable to face the truth. The Palestinians cannot admit that the Holocaust happened, that the Jews were innocent victims of it, that one of their most important leaders supported and collaborated with it, and that Nazism has played a not-insignificant role in their own national movement because, if they did, they would have to face some very uncomfortable things, and their apparently invincible moral self-regard would implode.
What this ultimately results in, besides moral debasement, is hypocrisy on a world-historical scale. The Palestinians and anti-Zionists the world over regularly demand that Israel and indeed all Zionists face up to and acknowledge their historical sins, but they absolutely refuse to demand the same of themselves. This refusal goes so far as to deny history and defame its victims, because it must. There is no other choice but honesty and self-criticism, and this is out of the question. It is too much to expect that Abbas or any Palestinian leader might be an exception to this. There appear to be no exceptions, and as long as the Palestinian national movement fails to confront its own original sins, there will be none.
Benjamin Kerstein is a writer and editor living in Tel Aviv. Read more of his writing on Substack and his website. Follow him on Twitter @benj_kerstein.
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