Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denied a Jewish connection to Israel in a speech to the Palestinian leadership, drawing a strong rebuke from American Jewish groups of all political stripes.
“Israel is a colonial project that has nothing to do with Jews,” Abbas said during a more than two-hour speech in Ramallah, at a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Council. The two-day meeting was held to formulate a response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize gathering as Israel’s capital.
Abbas alleged that once there was a State of Israel, its leaders could not convince Jews to immigrate to it.
He also said that 6 million Jews preferred to be killed by the Nazis in Europe rather than leave for Israel.
During World War II, pre-state Palestine was ruled by the British, who prevented most Jewish immigration to Palestine.
He also alleged that Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, only grudgingly worked to bring Jews in Arab countries to come to Israel after he determined that he could not fill the country with European Jews.
Abbas’s speech drew condemnation from across the American Jewish political spectrum. From the left, the Jewish Democratic Council of America, J Street, the Israel Policy Forum and others strongly rebuked the comments.
“Abbas distorted the history of the Holocaust by shamefully claiming Jews would have chosen to die in Europe rather than immigrate to pre-state Israel. He dismissed the possibility of a two-state solution,” Ron Klein, chair of the JDCA, said in a statement. “… His words do nothing to help Palestinians who strive to live in an independent state alongside Israel, and empower extremists within his own ranks to undermine the peace process and encourage violence against Israelis.”
J Street laid some of the blame for Abbas’s statements at Trump’s feet, saying “This speech — and the undercutting of America’s role as a mediator in this conflict — would not have come about if it were not for President Trump’s inept and disastrous missteps regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
The more conservative Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organzations said that Abbas’s frustrations should not be aimed at the Trump administration, but at how he’s failed to deliver for the Palestinian people.
“The Palestinian leadership can continue to shift the blame or take responsibility and exercise courageous leadership. The lies and charges cannot undo the facts,” the group said in a joint statement.
The Anti-Defamation League said it was “greatly concerned” by Abbas’s speech.
“Palestinian President Abbas’s latest anti-Israel diatribe is a sober reminder that at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies the Palestinian leadership’s longstanding refusal to recognize the historic Jewish connection to the Land of Israel,” it said in a statement.
Abbas slammed Trump and vowed to not participate in any negotiations under the auspices of the United States.
“The deal of the century has become the slap in the face of the century,” Abbas said. “… Any future negotiations will take place only within the context of the international community, by an international committee created in the framework of an international conference.”
Abbas called U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman a “settler.” He vowed to never meet with Friedman.
He also attacked Israel, for example alleging that “Israel has imported frightening amounts of drugs in order to destroy our younger generation.”
In Jerusalem, President Reuven Rivlin condemned Abbas’ remarks in a meeting Monday with a delegation of AIPAC board of directors.
“What we heard yesterday from Mahmoud Abbas was terrible. He returned back to the ideas he expressed decades ago, when they were no less terrible. To say Israel is the result of a Western conspiracy to settle Jews in land belonging to Arab populations? To say that that the Jewish people has no connection with the land of Israel? He forgot many things, and said exactly the things that led him to be accused years ago of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial,” Rivlin said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Abbas’s remarks in a statement issued from India, where he is on an official visit: “I heard what Abu Mazen [Abbas] said. He has revealed the truth. He has torn off the mask and shown to the public the simple truth that I have been working to instill for many long years: The root of the conflict between us and the Palestinians is their steadfast refusal to recognize the Jewish state in any borders whatsoever.”