When Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas spoke at a news conference in Berlin with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Aug. 17, he publicly revealed, perhaps inadvertently, that while he has a long-standing record of Holocaust denial, he still felt perfectly willing to draw a comparison between the lethal actions of the Third Reich and Israel’s behavior towards the Palestinians.
“From 1947 to the present day,” Abbas said, “Israel has committed 50 massacres in Palestinian villages and cities—in Deir Yassin, Tantura, Kafr Qasim and many others—50 massacres, 50 holocausts. And until today, and every day, there are casualties killed by the Israeli military.”
It was Abbas’s use of the word “holocaust” that caused a fierce backlash, not only because it was recklessly uttered in Germany, but because it also suggested the deaths of Palestinians exceeded the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust by a factor of 50.
Abbas, of course, is well known for his crude Holocaust denial, having written a doctoral dissertation that cast doubt on the number of Jewish victims of the Final Solution. In 1984, that dissertation was published as the book The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism, which laid out the fantasy that Zionists themselves were complicit in supporting the Nazi genocide. Abbas claimed that the Zionist leadership told the Nazis “to do as they wish to the Jews, as long as it guarantees individual immigration to Palestine. … This was because [the Zionist leadership] thought that raising the number of victims would increase its rights at the end of the war, when the bounty is divided.”
In Abbas’s hallucinatory worldview, Zionists were so inhumane, rapacious and murderous in their zeal to create a Jewish homeland that they willingly sacrificed millions of their brethren and then happily reaped the benefits of undeserved reparations. And even if Jews are to be believed when they testify to the reality of the Holocaust, Israel is still at fault, since it should understand suffering and death at the hands of a murderous regime. “If [Jews] say that they made sacrifices in World War II, and we respect what they say, they should not treat us the way they were treated,” Abbas told Polish journalists in 2015. “We must not be a victim of the victim.”
Scholar of anti-Semitism Lesley Klaff noted that such a claim “involves an inversion of reality (the Israelis are cast as the ‘new’ Nazis and the Palestinians as the ‘new’ Jews). … In short, the Holocaust … is now being used, instrumentally, as a means to express animosity towards the homeland of the Jews. ‘The victims have become perpetrators’ is being heard more and more. That is Holocaust Inversion” (emphasis original).
But why do Abbas and other Holocaust deniers and minimizers elsewhere compare the behavior of Israel to that of the Nazis while in the same breath denying the Nazi genocide even occurred?
In Arab society, Holocaust denial and inversion serve a politically healing purpose for which no Western denier has felt the need. Arabs often want the reality, the actual happening, of the Holocaust to be proven false, if for no other reason than that it diminishes Israel’s moral capital. It eliminates once and for all the cataclysmic social and political event that was a major factor in convincing the world to accept and endorse the creation of a Jewish state.
Denying the Holocaust is also politically expedient because it can be used to claim that the Palestinians are the ultimate victims, erasing a core element of Israel’s tragic heritage. This, Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman wrote in their book Denying History, “denies any moral authority to victims of the atrocity.”
In addition, by accusing Israel of a conspiratorial and exploitative deception that garnered the world’s financial and moral support for the “Zionist regime,” Abbas and other deniers can dismiss the success of the democratic Jewish state and explain why Palestinian society and culture have languished in comparison. They can claim this is not due to Israeli dynamism and industry, but rather to a duplicitous lie.
Abbas and others who deny or invert the Holocaust in order to libel the Jews have a baser motive as well: They simply want to hurt people. There is no other explanation for their attempts to both deny a people’s greatest trauma and then blame the traumatized for committing the very crime that was committed against them. This is a sadistic and monstrous thing to do, and should be condemned as the cruel and hateful act that it is.
Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of the forthcoming book The Slow Death of the University: How Radicalism, Israel-Hatred and Race Obsession Are Destroying Academia.