I had always believed that the claim that Mahmoud Abbas was a Holocaust denier was a myth concocted by some right wing organization to discredit him and the peace process. I was wrong.
In 1984 Mahmoud Abbas‘ published a book entitled “The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between the Nazis and the Zionist movement.” The book, which is based on his 1982 dissertation, alleges that the the Zionist movement deliberately exaggerated the number of Jews murdered during the Holocaust in order to garner support for their cause.
On the subject of the numerical veracity of the Holocaust, Abbas writes: “After the war it was publicized that six million Jews were among the victims, and that the war of annihilation had been aimed first of all against the Jews, and only then against the rest of the people of Europe. The truth of the matter is that no one can verify this number. Or completely deny it. In other words, the number of Jewish victims might be six million and it might be much smaller – even less then one million.”
Commenting on the exploitation and exaggeration of the Holocaust by the Zionist movement, Abbas adds: “It seems that the interest of the Zionist movement was to inflate the number of murdered in the war as to endure greater gains. This is what led it to confirm this figure, and to instill it in world public opinion, and by doing so, to arose more pangs of conscience and sympathy for Zionism in general.”
To support his claims, Abbas cites the research of Robert Faurisson, a French Holocaust denier, who argues that the Jews were not murdered by the gas chambers at Auschwitz.
In response to the revelation of his book, Abbas has stated that at the time of writing “The Other Side” his thinking was influenced by the struggle against Israel and that today he would never make such a statement. In an interview for Haaretz, Abbas said that his work has been misunderstood and that the Holocaust “was a terrible, unforgivable crime against the Jewish nation.”
The problem with Abbas’ response is that it does not exactly constitute an unequivocal retraction. In his book, Abbas never denied that the Holocaust as a whole happened, he just said that the Jews lied about its scope. Therefore, for him to say that the Holocaust is a horrible crime is not to necessarily take back what he originally said. In fact, after stating in his book that the the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust could be as low as one million, Abbas qualified his position by stating: ” A discussion regarding the number of Jews does not in any way diminish the atrocity of the crime committed against them because the killing of a human being – any human being – is a crime that the civilized world cannot accept and humanity cannot comprehend.”
People have rightly been very concerned about this aspect of Abbas’ past. Some have even come to the conclusion that a person who flirted with Holocaust denial has no business making peace with Israel. While I share their worry and indignation, I believe that Abbas’ record as a peace maker and an advocate for coexistence soundly outweighs his irresponsible scholarship.
Moreover, if we were to judge every politician that has been in involved in this conflict by something offensive and/or false that they expressed in their past we would get nowhere. The truth of the matter is that everybody who has been involved in this conflict has said (and done) something that has been reprehensible to the other side: From Begin to Saadat, from Rabin to Hussein, from Olmert to Abbas.
Case in point, about three years ago, a personal diary of President Harry S. Truman was discovered. The diary was written in 1947, shortly after the Holocaust, and before the formation of the state of Israel. In the diary, Truman wrote the following after his business partner, Henry Morgenthau, asked him to intervene on behalf of a ship of Jewish refugees (the Exodus). Truman wrote:
“The Jews, I find are very, very selfish. They care not how many Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Poles, Yugoslavs or Greeks get murdered or mistreated as DP as long as the Jews get special treatment. Yet when they have power,physical, financial or political neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the under dog.”
This is the same Truman who spoke so eloquently on the plight of Jewish refugees. This is the same Truman who famously fought the State Department for the recognition of Israel. This is the same Truman who was given a Torah scroll by Ben-Gurion in recognition of his efforts on behalf of the Jewish people. This is the same Truman who has Streets and institutions in Israel named in his honor. Does this private expression of anti-semitism discredit all the work that Truman had done for the Jewish people?
Abbas’ book will continue to be an indelible blemish in his past, as it should be. But this blemish should not prevents us from judging the man by the sum of his actions and words.