Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas caused shock in Germany on Tuesday when, alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin, he accused Israel of perpetrating “holocaust” against Palestinians over the years.
Scholz did not verbally respond to Abbas’s comment at the time, although he grimaced at the use of the word, which Abbas pronounced in English. Scholz later said using the term in such a context was “unbearable.”
Commenting on the incident, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid called Abbas’s comments “a moral mockery” and “a terrible distortion”.
Abbas made his remarks as the two spoke to the media after a meeting on issues in the Middle East.
Abbas responded 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 hostage in the Olympic Village on September 5, 1972. At the time of the attack, the group was affiliated with Abbas’s Fatah party.
When asked if he, as a Palestinian leader, intended to apologize to Israel and Germany for the attack prior to the 50th anniversary, Abbas answered instead by citing allegations of atrocities committed by Israel since 1947.
“If we want to talk about the past, go ahead,” Abbas, who spoke Arabic, told reporters.
“I have 50 massacres that Israel has committed… 50 massacres, 50 massacres, 50 holocausts,” he said, making sure to say the last word in English.
Scholz frowned at the use of the word, but said nothing.
The popular German newspaper BILD published an outraged leading website story about the incident, entitled “Anti-Semitism Scandal at the Federal Chancellery.”
It expressed shock that “not a word of dissent” [was said] in light of the worst Holocaust relativization ever uttered by a government leader in the chancellor’s office.”
Der Spiegel, Welt, Junge Freiheit and other media also made headlines for Scholz’s silence during the press conference.
Germany has long argued that the term should only be used to describe the unique crime of the Nazis, which was the killing of six million Jews before and during World War II.
A Scholz spokesperson told BILD that “before the Chancellor could contradict this outrageous sentence, the government spokesperson had already moderated the press conference – as usual after the last question/answer block – which visibly irritated Scholz.
“The government spokesperson then told the journalists who were still present, who could not help but notice the annoyance of the Chancellor, how outraged the Chancellor was at the statement and also that he had not had a chance to openly contradict [Abbas] again.”
In a statement to BILD, Scholz added: “Especially for us Germans, any relativization of the Holocaust is intolerable and unacceptable.”
Lapid tweeted Monday night that Abbas’ “declaration about ’50 holocausts’ while on German soil is not only a moral mockery, but also a horrific distortion…History will not forgive him.”
Earlier in the same press conference, Scholz had backed out against Abbas by using the term “apartheid” to describe Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.
Abbas, who regularly accuses Israel of practicing apartheid, said in Berlin that “Israel’s undermining of the two-state solution based on the 1967 borders and turning it into a one-state reality with an apartheid regime, will improve security and stability in our region.”
Scholz said: “Of course we have a different assessment in view of Israeli politics, and I want to expressly say here that I do not support the use of the word ‘apartheid’ and think it does not describe the situation correctly.”
In his remarks, the Palestinian Authority president also said he is committed to building trust and reaching a peaceful solution to the conflict with Israel.
“Please come to peace,” he said. “Please come to security, let’s build trust between us and you. This is better than other forms of talking.”
Weeks before a planned gloomy memorial to mark the 50th anniversary of the Munich attack, Germany was also mired in controversy over its dealings with the relatives of the dead Israelis.
The families of the victims announced last week that they planned to boycott the ceremony after failing to reach an agreement on increased compensation from the German government.
Relatives of the athletes have long accused Germany of failing to secure the Olympic village, refusing Israeli aid and ruining a rescue operation that also killed five of the attackers.
Abbas has previously sparked controversy over comments about the Holocaust, including a 2018 claim that Jewish “social behavior” — not anti-Semitism — was the cause of Nazi Germany’s genocide of European Jews, for which he later apologized.
The PA leader’s 1982 dissertation was titled “The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism,” and he has been accused in the past of denying the scope of the Holocaust. The dissertation allegedly claimed that the six million victims of the Holocaust were vastly exaggerated and that Zionist leaders collaborated with the Nazis.
Also at the press conference, Scholz said he did not believe the time had come to unilaterally recognize the Palestinian state, which Abbas repeatedly asked for.
Related: On Abbas’s side, German leader rejects his use of ‘apartheid’ regarding Israel
ToI archive, May 2018: After blaming Jews for the Holocaust, Abbas apologizes and condemns anti-Semitism * Lipstadt: With ‘classic anti-Semitism’ Abbas ends his career as he began