Mahmoud Abbas

Mahmoud Abbas Wikimedia Commons

Five years ago, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took to the podium of the U.N. General Assembly to denounce those who, the day before, had stayed in their seats to listen to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, because of the Iranian President’s denial of the Holocaust.

I say on behalf of my people, the Jewish people, and decent people everywhere: Have you no shame? Have you no decency?

A mere six decades after the Holocaust, you give legitimacy to a man who denies that the murder of six million Jews took place and pledges to wipe out the Jewish state.

What a disgrace! What a mockery of the charter of the United Nations!

Yesterday, on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Palestinian news agency reported that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had called the Holocaust “the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era” and expressed his sympathy for the families of the Nazis’ victims. Given that Abbas wrote a thesis three decades ago minimizing the Holocaust, and given that Holocaust denial is common in the Arab world, you’d think that Netanyahu would applaud Abbas’ remarks.

But only if you didn’t know Netanyahu. Rather than offer even token appreciation, he immediately went into attack mode. “Instead of issuing statements designed to placate global public opinion, Abu Mazen [Abbas] needs to choose between the alliance with Hamas, a terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel and denies the Holocaust, and a true peace with Israel,” he said.

That was in line with Netanyahu’s refusal last September to show any appreciation when Ahmadinejad’s successor, Hassan Rouhany, called the “crime against the Jews” committed by the Nazis “reprehensible and condemnable.” Because Rouhani had previously declined to answer an interviewer’s question about the Holocaust, Netanyahu tweeted, “Just last week, @HassanRouhani, like Ahmadinejad before him, refused to recognize the #Holocaust as an historical fact.”

It’s hard not to conclude that Netanyahu would prefer his adversaries to be Holocaust deniers. Perhaps he believes, in his heart, that that’s what they are. Perhaps he thinks it’s helpful to Israel for him to insist that they are. Either way, it’s stupid and counterproductive.

The cause of combatting Holocaust denial is only harmed when the acknowledgements of people like Abbas and Rouhani are dismissed as meaningless. And when Netanyahu dismisses them, it only makes Israel look like a country that can’t take yes as an answer.

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Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

6 Comments

  1. Mark,

    It has been noted that Hassan Rouhany’s statement was somewhat misinterpreted. According to the WSJ and Daily Beast quoting a Farsi news agency, he did not use the Farsi words for “Holocaust” or “reprehensible.”

    He said, ““I have said before that I am not a historian and historians should specify, state and explain the aspects of historical events, but generally we fully condemn any kind of crime committed against humanity throughout the history, including the crime committed by the Nazis both against the Jews and non-Jews, the same way that if today any crime is committed against any nation or any religion or any people or any belief, we condemn that crime and genocide. Therefore, what the Nazis did is condemned, (but) the aspects that you talk about, clarification of these aspects is a duty of the historians and researchers, I am not a history scholar.”

    Regarding Abbas, he can say anything he pleases whenever he wants and whenever it suits his agenda. As you well know, Mark, the Palestinians and their Iranian backers can be right one day and wrong the next. If Israel is wrong just one day it will vanish in a cloud of nuclear smoke.

    • Steve, and others,

      Israel is doing wrong every day. You seem to misrepresent the real terms of violence and oppression. I invite you to get a more critical perspective on the history of the conflict on the Palestinian territories.

      Netanyahu employs all possibilities for vilifying his adversaries. “Netanyahu would prefer that his adversaries to be Holocaust deniers” is basic a fact you like it or not.

      “Israel should oppress, kill and discriminate to survive” is an old argument that proved wrong as other political venues for coexistence emerged for a long time, but you guys seem to keep circulating it. It is unethical, and it does nothing but strengthening the peaceful opposition around the world against the violence towards Palestinians in their own lands. Instead of celebrating Netanyahu’s inability to appreciate and cooperate, I would get ready to admit the holocaust perpetrated by Israel itself.

  2. The Great God Pan

    “Given that Abbas wrote a thesis three decades ago minimizing the Holocaust, and given that Holocaust denial is common in the Arab world, you’d think that Netanyahu would applaud Abbas’ remarks.”

    Well, no. One MIGHT think that, but one wouldn’t necessarily think it.

    One might also think that these facts are reason to doubt the sincerity of Abass’ remarks, especially since he has not yet (to my knowledge) explicitly disavowed his thesis (saying that he wouldn’t write it today is not the same thing) and described how it was incorrect, how his current views differ and how that change came about.

    So, no, one would not necessarily think exactly as RNS writer Mark Silk thinks. One might think differently. A radical concept, I know.

  3. Let’s assume for the moment that Bibi could/should have acknowledged the significance of Abbas’ statement on the Holocaust. (And did Abbas make the same and only state on the Holocaust in the Arab press?) But Professor Silk-it is a harsh, unsubstantiated leap on your part to then conclude that, “Netanyahu would prefer that his adversaries to be Holocaust deniers.”

  4. Lynne Newington

    A leopard can never change it’s spots and Benjamin Netanyanou has had firsthand experience of that.
    We all know the politics of trying to sway the status quo, especially we as Catholics suffering at the hands of heads of states for expediency worldwide.
    I’m with him on this; lives are cheap.

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