One of the less savory aspects of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s biography is that he has a PhD in Holocaust denial–literally. His 1982 dissertation, published as “The Other Side: the Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism,” famously argues that the Zionists collaborated with the Nazis in order to spur more Jewish immigration to Palestine. “The Zionist movement,” it explains, “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.” The Zionists, the work asserts, were the Third Reich’s “basic partner in crime.” It also claims that the figure of six million dead has been exaggerated for political gain, and suggests one million as a more reasonable estimate. Abbas has never unreservedly repudiated the document, and has in fact regularly reaffirmed its core argument, saying in 2013 that he had “70 more books that I still haven’t published” proving the Zionist-Nazi partnership.
But according to today’s New York Times, that has all just changed. An article headlined “Mahmoud Abbas Shifts on Holocaust” has the scoop:
President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority planned to issue a formal statement on Sunday calling the Holocaust “the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era” and expressing sympathy with victims’ families.
The statement, which grew out of a meeting a week ago between Mr. Abbas and an American rabbi who promotes understanding between Muslims and Jews, is the first such offering of condolences by the Palestinian leader.
Mr. Abbas has been vilified as a Holocaust denier because in his doctoral dissertation, published as a book in 1983, he challenged the number of Jewish victims and argued that Zionists had collaborated with Nazis to propel more people to what would become Israel.
Given how revolutionary Abbas’s new statement seems to be, Times readers might be confused to discover that he said pretty much the exact same thing to Haaretz in 2003:
I have no desire to argue with the figures. The Holocaust was a terrible, unforgiveable crime against the Jewish nation, a crime against humanity that cannot be accepted by humankind. The Holocaust was a terrible thing and nobody can claim I denied it.
In fact, contrary to the Times‘s claim, Abbas has acknowledged the reality of the Holocaust for decades. He just thinks that the Jews helped perpetrate it. His doctoral dissertation didn’t claim that the Holocaust never took place (though it did quibble with the numbers), or that it wasn’t a terrible atrocity. Rather, as the Times itself reports, Abbas argued that the Zionists joined forces with the Nazis to inflict that atrocity on European Jewry. In other words, he cleverly crafted a position that allowed him to acknowledge the Holocaust while still blaming the Jews for it.
And Abbas has never repudiated this stance. On the contrary, he has consistently reasserted it and defended it from criticism. Thus, as recently as last year, he told Al-Mayadeen, a Beirut TV station affiliated with Iran and Hezbollah, that he “challenges anyone who can deny that the Zionist movement had ties with the Nazis before World War II,” adding that he had “70 more books that I still haven’t published” demonstrating the purported partnership.
While at first glance, this statement may seem like an about-face from 2003 (and today’s Times), it is not. Rather, when Abbas bemoans the Holocaust as an “heinous crime” to an American rabbi and then turns around and blames the Zionists for helping perpetrate it, these are not mutually exclusive positions. They are part of his coherent and consistent worldview that sees the Zionist movement as partially culpable for committing the Holocaust and exterminating their Jewish brethren.
Which means if any reporter really wants to find out if the Palestinian leader has finally jettisoned his conspiracy theories about the Holocaust, they need to ask him not about whether it happened, but who he thinks was responsible.
Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.