In Wake of Holocaust Comments, Israeli Defense Minister Defends Past Meetings With Abbas

Benny Gantz, who has met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas three times in the last year, refused to rule out further in-person meetings despite the former's widely criticized Holocaust remarks

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol
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Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, last year.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, last year.Credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta /AP
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

Amidst widespread anger over Mahmoud Abbas’ claim that Israel has committed “50 Holocausts” against his people, Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday defended his decision to meet several times with the Palestinian President over the course of the past year, declaring that “we don’t do security coordination with Mother Teresa.”

Speaking with the Ynet news site on Thursday morning, Gantz stated that while there were no plans for further meetings on the table, he was not ruling out further in-person talks, which he indicated were in Israel’s interests.

Asserting that “strengthening Israel also goes through strengthening the Palestinian Authority,” Gantz asked, “what is the alternative? The restoration of an organization more radical than Abu Mazen, more radical than Hamas? Is the Islamic Jihad better than Abu Mazen?”

Gantz and Abbas met last August in what was the first meeting of a senior Israeli government official with the Palestinian Authority’s leader since 2010. That was followed by a meeting at Gantz’s home in Rosh Ha’ayin in December, in what was Abbas’ first public engagement in Israel since that same year, and another face-to-face in Ramallah prior to U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to the region this July.

Their contacts were brought up by political rivals and critics following Abbas’ comments made during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin on Tuesday.

Asked if the Palestinian leader planned to apologize to Israel and Germany for the Munich massacre committed by Palestinian militants against 11 Israeli Olympic athletes ahead of the 50th anniversary next month, Abbas responded instead by citing allegations of atrocities committed by Israel since 1947.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a news conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, in Berlin, Germany, on Tuesday.Credit: LISI NIESNER/ REUTERS

“Israel has committed 50 massacres in 50 Palestinian locations since 1947, he said, adding: “50 massacres, 50 Holocausts.”

Abbas’ remarks unleashed widespread outrage in the United States, Israel and Germany, with Prime Minister Yair Lapid calling them “not only a moral disgrace, but a monstrous lie” and American U.S. antisemitism envoy Deborah Lipstadt saying that “Holocaust distortion can have dangerous consequences and fuels antisemitism.”

Gantz’s office demanded that Abbas walk back on his comments and Gantz himself called Abbas’ statement “vile and untrue”, calling it an attempt to "distort and rewrite history.” He went on to say it is “Holocaust denial” to draw comparisons between the Israeli military and Nazi Germany.

“This is a very serious incident. The very denial of the Holocaust, not least in Germany. These are outrageous, serious, delusional and false statements, they have no place. There is no phenomenon like the Holocaust that European Jewry and Jewry in general went through in World War II, it cannot be obscured. I demanded through my office that he return In his words, and it is good that he did so,” Gantz subsequently told Ynet.

On Wednesday, Abbas walked back on his comments, with the Palestinian Wafa news agency reporting that he had reaffirmed that the Holocaust is the “most heinous crime in modern human history,” emphasizing that his remarks were not meant to deny the Holocaust.

Multiple Jewish organizations in Europe and the United States accused Abbas of antisemitism following his comments.

“The fact that Abbas would so brazenly demean the murder of six million Jews in Berlin so publicly and think it is acceptable is sadly additional proof of why he has so consistently refused peace with Israel,” said European Jewish Congress President Ariel Muzicant, asserting that “a person who appropriates the suffering of others to score political points, cannot possibly see that suffering and thus has no understanding of the need for peace and reconciliation.

“Unfortunately, in Berlin, the real Mahmoud Abbas, the person who wrote his doctoral dissertation denying central aspects of the Holocaust, was unmasked, and we call on world leaders to demand a full apology and treat him the same way as any other Holocaust denier. In other words, to demand a full and unequivocal apology in words and deeds,” Muzicant said.

Abbas stirred controversy in his doctoral thesis in Moscow University when he examined connections between the Zionist leadership in Israel and the Nazi regime in the 1930s. In it, he dealt with the claims of Holocaust deniers such as Roger Garaudy regarding the correct number of Jewish deaths in the Holocaust.

This is not the first time that Abbas, who once decried the murder of Europe’s Jews as "the most heinous crime against humanity in modern history,” has garnered similar criticism.

In 2018, he argued during a speech that Jews in Europe were exposed to pogroms not because of their religion, but because of their social role and financial matters. He also said that Ashkenazi Jews originated not from the ancient Israelites, but from the Khazars.

As such, they “have no connection to the Semitic [peoples] or our lords Abraham and Jacob,” he contended, leading to harsh condemnations from the U.S., European Union and United Nations, a year after commenting that “after the Holocaust, Europe wanted to solve the Jews’ problem at our expense.”

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