April 21, 2024
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Abbas Retracts Ph.D., Says Shoah Was Heinous Crime

In the Spring of 2005, a reporter suggested to then acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that if he wanted to know if he had a partner for peace, he should ask Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority—and the man who made a deal with Hamas that last week, for all intents and purposes, ended peace negotiations with Israel—if he truly believed his doctoral thesis, which essentially denied the Holocaust. All Olmert would need is a one word answer—yes or no. Olmert didn’t answer the question, but told the reporter he would send Abbas her regards.

On Sunday, March 20, PLO President Abbas told Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU) that this year he will publicly speak out on behalf of Holocaust remembrance efforts around the world. He described the Holocaust in their meeting as “The single greatest tragedy in modern-day history,” and said that remembrance should be an issue of increased concern to both Jews and Muslims.

“He told me,” said Schneier, “‘I instruct my ambassadors to participate in Holocaust commemoration ceremonies in different parts of the world—Poland, Russia—I have made it clear that they need to attend these ceremonies.’ In light of all the revisionism and denial in the Muslim world this was a significant development.”

In the meeting, Rabbi Schneier urged the PA President to be more vocal in his support for expanding global relations between the Muslim and Jewish communities. In particular, President Abbas agreed to join with the FFEU in speaking out for the European Jewish community in combating bans on ritual circumcision and slaughter.

Two days later, Abbas and Hamas made a deal to form a new government and will hold elections in five weeks. How does Schneier reconcile those actions with the statements Abbas made to him the previous Sunday?

Schneier was in Ramallah with Imam Shamsi Ali, the official religious spokesman for the Muslims in Indonesia, the largest Muslim democracy in the world, and who is a highly regarded spiritual leader in Malaysia, Singapore and other south Asian countries, where most of the world’s Muslims live. (Of 1.4 billion Muslims in the world, only 16% are Arab.) He was also accompanied by two Jewish community leaders, one from Vienna and another from Toronto, who asked that their names not be revealed. All three were 2Gs (Second Generation).

“We were sitting there on the 20th, and I didn’t even have a chance to finish my sentence when he made that statement about the Shoah,” said the rabbi.

“We were in the midst of discussing the need to develop greater empathy one for the other. And Denmark and the bans on ritual slaughter effects both our communities. We are after all, children of Abraham. So I asked the President to speak out, reminding him that he was a Muslim leader as well as a political leader and to please speak out for the other son of Abraham. And he said, “Rabbi, I am there for you.”

Schneier said, “I asked him to make a statement on Yom Hashoah, to demonstrate a meaningful and significant sense of empathy that transcends the Palestinian Israeli conflict, to empathize with the darkest days in our history and for him to offer his solidarity—which is when he interrupted me and described the Shoah in no uncertain terms.”

After reading many of the negative reactions to Abbas’ statement on the Shoah, Schneier told JLBC, It seems from the Israeli media that the general population in Israel has welcomed his statement, and there were some members of the Knesset who called me to congratulate me about that.”

Michael Berenbaum, the Holocaust scholar and frequent contributor to JLBC, said that the Israeli Prime Minister’s reaction was “ridiculous,” and that he could learn a thing or two about how Chabad does kiruv. “Instead of going all negative on him, he should have congratulated him on coming this far, and reminded him that there was still a long way to go. Instead of being reasonable what he did makes no sense.”

Berenbaum also said that much of the Holocaust denial that has been disseminated in the last 19 or so years could all have been mitigated had right-wingers permitted Yasir Arafat to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum when he was invited to do so. Berenbaum, at one time was the project director of that museum. “If Arafat would have been allowed to enter the museum and see it the way others have, use of the denial of the Holocaust as a political tool would have become impossible.

“And we should also remember that by making such a simple statement, Abbas is also putting himself at grave risk. Just think about that professor from Bir Zeit University who took those students to Auschwitz. His life is now at stake, as are the lives of a number of the Imams who visited Auschwitz. Why would that be different for Abbas? It would be even worse.”

Schneier reiterated that. “Consider his environment, his circle. Acknowledging the Holocaust is not quite on their agenda. And it is interesting that his first detractors said it would mean more if he said it Arabic…but he DID. People were trying to blow holes into the breakthrough. But the Palestinian press office, the WAFA, released that statement, as he said it to me, in Arabic, putting his own safety at risk. But I saw his face, and he was unequivocal in his expression of solidarity and in speaking of the magnitude and heinousness of the crime. He was quite clear and pronounced in his statement.”

But asked JLBC, how does this jive with his action the following Wednesday, when they announced the pact between the PA and Hamas. Schneier answered, “It is my opinion that President Abbas believes that he can bring Hamas to the table and have them recognize the State of Israel.

“We are trying to create a new paradigm of Muslim-Jewish understanding. It’s why I went to Ramallah. I will leave the political peace process to the politicians and political leaders. But to bring the children of Abraham together, you cannot enact a political peace process if you don’t deal with underlying basis for the lack of trust between us.  We need to learn the texts, the culture and the ideas we do share with each other so as to create some trust.

“In my line of work, you have to believe that people evolve—I am not talking about Hamas, I am talking about Abbas. I believe that people grow and develop and that individuals can expand their horizons and sympathies, and I also know that in Judaism, that is one of the cardinal tenets of the Yomim Noraim, the Days of Awe—which is that it is human nature to change human actions. That has been my experience, and I have seen this growth in my interfaith work with Muslims. That is true of those who were not knowledgeable about Jews—like his friend and co-author Imam Shamsi Ali.

“He needed to go through the process. And I am not going to sit here and say that we have reached the promised land of Muslim Jewish relations. We have made some significant strides, and we have a long way to go, but the journey has begun, and on this journey, Abbas’ statement was a benchmark, and that’s the good news.”

By Jeanette Friedman

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