Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday offered an apology after he was accused of anti-Semitism for suggesting that historic persecution of European Jews had been caused by their conduct, not by their religion.
Abbas condemned anti-Semitism and called the Holocaust the “most heinous crime in history” in a statement issued by his office in Ramallah after a four-day meeting of the Palestinian National Council (PNC), at which he had made the remarks.
“If people were offended by my statement in front of the PNC, especially people of the Jewish faith, I apologize to them,” Abbas said in the statement.
“I would like to assure everyone that it was not my intention to do so, and to reiterate my full respect for the Jewish faith, as well as other monotheistic faiths.”
Abbas, 82, was excoriated by Israeli and Jewish leaders and diplomats who accused him of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial for his remarks on Monday during his opening speech to the PNC, the de facto parliament of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
In a lengthy section about history, he said that Jews living in Europe had suffered massacres “every 10 to 15 years in some country since the 11th century and until the Holocaust”.
Citing books written by various authors, Abbas said: “They say hatred against Jews was not because of their religion, it was because of their social profession. So the Jewish issue that had spread against the Jews across Europe was not because of their religion, it was because of usury and banks.”
Israeli officials had no immediate comment on Abbas’ statement of apology on Friday.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had accused Abbas of grave anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, calling on the international community to condemn him.
Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper of the US-based Jewish human rights organization the Simon Wiesenthal Center said Abbas’ speech was the words of “a classic anti-Semite”.