Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas apologized Friday for comments he made last week which were widely decried as anti-Semitic.
“If people were offended by my statement, especially people of the Jewish faith, I apologize to them. I would like to assure everyone that it was not my intention to do so, and to reiterate my full respect for the Jewish faith, as well as other monotheistic faiths.
“I would also like to reiterate our long held condemnation of the Holocaust, as the most heinous crime in history, and express our sympathy with its victims,” he said.
“Likewise, we condemn anti- Semitism in all its forms, and confirm our commitment to the two- state solution, and to live side by side in peace and security,” a statement released in English, Hebrew and Arabic said.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman rejected the apology by the Palestinian leader, saying “Abbas is a pathetic Holocaust denier who wrote his doctorate thesis about Holocaust denial and afterwards even published a book about Holocaust denial. That’s the way he should be treated and his apology is not accepted.”
>> What Abbas really said about the Jews | Analysis
The European Union and the United Nations’ Mideast envoy on Wednesday condemned Abbas’ remarks as “unacceptable” after he suggested in a speech that Jews were historically persecuted because of their involvement in money-lending and banking.
Citing books written by various authors, Abbas argued: “They say hatred against Jews was not because of their religion, it was because of their social profession. So the Jewish issue that had spread against the Jews across Europe was not because of their religion, it was because of usury and banks.”
The UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, condemned Abbas’ statement, saying his speech “repeated some of the most contemptuous anti-Semitic slurs, including the suggestion that the social behavior of Jews was the cause for the Holocaust.”
The UN envoy said that “such statements are unacceptable, deeply disturbing and do not serve the interests of the Palestinian people or peace in the Middle East. Denying the historic and religious connection of the Jewish people to the land and their holy sites in Jerusalem stands in contrast to reality.
“The Holocaust did not occur in a vacuum, it was the result of thousands of years of persecution. This is why attempts to rewrite, downplay or deny it are dangerous. Leaders have an obligation to confront anti-Semitism everywhere and always, not perpetuate the conspiracy theories that fuel it.”
In unusually blunt language from Brussels, the European External Action Service said in a statement: “The speech Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivered on 30 April contained unacceptable remarks concerning the origins of the Holocaust and Israel’s legitimacy.
“Such rhetoric will only play into the hands of those who do not want a two-state solution, which President Abbas has repeatedly advocated.”
The EEAS added: “Antisemitism is not only a threat for Jews but a fundamental menace to our open and liberal societies.
“The European Union remains committed to combat any form of anti-Semitism and any attempt to condone, justify or grossly trivialize the Holocaust.”
Also Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed Abbas’s remarks, writing on his Twitter account: “It would appear that, once a Holocaust denier, always a Holocaust denier.”
Former U.S. secretary of state John Kerry also criticized the remarks, writing on Twitter: “These comments are wrong, ugly, and unacceptable – anywhere from anyone – but particularly from anyone who says he wants to be a peacemaker. No excuses for antisemitism: words to be condemned, not explained away.”
On Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said Abbas had “reached a new low,” adding that “all those who think Israel is the reason that we don’t have peace, think again.”
Trump’s special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Jason Greenblatt, also condemned Abbas’s speech: “President Abbas’ remarks yesterday in Ramallah at the opening of the Palestinian National Congress must be unconditionally condemned by all. They are very unfortunate, very distressing and terribly disheartening. Peace cannot be built on this kind of foundation.”
Abbas stirred controversy in his doctoral thesis written decades ago at Moscow University, in which he examined connections between the Zionist leadership in Israel and the Nazi regime in the 1930s. In it he dealt with the claims of Holocaust deniers such as Roger Garaudy regarding the correct number of Jewish deaths in the Holocaust. Israeli officials have dubbed Abbas a Holocaust denier, but he has refuted the accusation.