On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, responding to a question posed by a Rabbi, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas asserted, "what happened to the Jews in the Holocaust is the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era."
The statement could be construed as an olive branch to his Israeli counterparts in light of recent diplomatic friction. However, Abbas' views of the Holocaust are far from consistent.
Abbas received his Ph.D. in history in 1982 from the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow. His dissertation, titled "The Connection between the Nazis and the Leaders of the Zionist Movement 1933–1945," was published as a book in Amman in 1984, titled "The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism." The scholarship was controversial, to put it mildly.
As historian Benny Morris noted, Abbas believed that the "The Zionist movement led a broad campaign of incitement against the Jews living under Nazi rule, in order to arouse the government's hatred of them, to fuel vengeance against them, and to expand the mass extermination."
Additionally, as Holocaust scholar Rafael Medoff notes, Abbas wrote that, "Following the war, word was spread that six million Jews were amongst the victims and that a war of extermination was aimed primarily at the Jews...The truth is that no one can either confirm or deny this figure. In other words, it is possible that the number of Jewish victims reached six million, but at the same time it is possible that the figure is much smaller — below one million."
Abbas further asserted that a "partnership was established between Hitler's Nazis and the leadership of the Zionist movement...[the Zionists gave] permission to every racist in the world, led by Hitler and the Nazis, to treat Jews as they wish, so long as it guarantees immigration to Palestine."
As media watchdog Steven Stalinsky notes, Abbas' book cited the work of French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson, who "denies that the gas chambers were for murdering people, and claims that they were only for incinerating bodies, out of concern for the spread of disease and infection in the region." Notably, in February 2012, former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presented Faurisson an award for "courage, strength, and force."
In later years, as Abbas was subject to increased Israeli and Western media scrutiny, he disavowed his own work. In 1995, Abbas told the Israeli daily Maariv, "Today I would not have made such remarks." In 2003, he went a step further saying, "The Holocaust was a terrible thing and nobody can claim I denied it." In July 2011, as Palestinian Authority president, Abbas told a Dutch newspaper, "If they say six million, I say six million… I do not deny the Holocaust." However, it is unclear if Abbas ever revised his assertions that Zionists played a role in Nazi atrocities.
Today, Abbas' characterization of the Holocaust as a "heinous crime" is further clouded by his Fatah faction's recent announcement of its intent to create a unity agreement with the violent Palestinian Islamist faction, Hamas. The group's leaders openly have engaged in Holocaust denial and repeatedly call for the destruction of the Jewish state.
Jonathan Schanzer is vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.