Outrage as Scholz leaves Abbas ‘Holocaust’ claim unchallenged

Palestinian leader accuses Israel of carrying out ‘50 Holocausts’ against his people

German chancellor Olaf Scholz and his spokesman have apologised for not intervening after Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas said Israel had carried out “50 holocausts” against his people in the post-war era.

Mr Abbas was widely condemned, in Israel and Germany, for his remarks at the end of a joint press conference in the Berlin chancellery on Tuesday.

While the Palestinian president clarified his remarks on Wednesday, he disputed suggestions he had relativised or denied the Holocaust, the Nazi murder campaign of six million European Jews.

Mr Scholz asked for a meeting with the chief Palestinian representative in Germany over the incident, which is likely to overshadow next month’s 50th anniversary of the 1972 Munich massacre that left 11 Israelis dead.


“The chancellor regrets that he didn’t intervene and react directly to the slanderous remarks,” said Steffen Hebestreit, the chancellor’s spokesman, who also apologised for his “split-second decision” to end the press conference.

“You can imagine that I see that as a mistake that I very much regret,” he added at a regular press conference, calling it a “poor performance by the government spokesman”.

Mr Abbas issued a clarification on Wednesday, saying that the Holocaust was the most heinous crime in modern human history and that Holocaust denial deserved to be condemned in the strongest terms.

The Palestinian leader stressed he had been referring to what he described as the crimes and massacres committed against the Palestinian people at the hands of Israeli forces, crimes that he said had not stopped to this day.

According to Israeli media reports, the clarification was issued following heavy pressure from Israel.

At his joint press conference with Mr Scholz in Berlin, Mr Abbas was asked if he would apologise to relatives of those killed in Munich by the Black September group, which had links Abbas’s Fatah party.

“Since 1947 to the present day Israel has committed 50 massacres in 50 Palestinian villages ... 50 massacres, 50 holocausts,” he replied, pronouncing the final word in English.

Listening to a translation via a headset, Mr Scholz looked surprised at the remark but did not speak as Mr Abbas added: “If we want to continue to dig in the past, please do.”


A hail of criticism followed, led by Germany’s Bild tabloid: “Not a word of dissent in the face of the worst Holocaust relativisation that a head of government has ever uttered in the chancellery.”

On Twitter Mr Scholz said he was “disgusted” by the remarks, adding: “For us Germans in particular any relativising of the Holocaust is intolerable and unacceptable.”

Israeli prime minister Yair Lapid castigated Mr Abbas’s remarks as “not only a moral disgrace but a monstrous lie”. He added: “Six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, including 1½ million Jewish children. History will never forgive him.”

Israeli finance minister Avigdor Lieberman called on the government to change its policy of engagement with Mr Abbas. “I call on the prime minister and defence minister to stop legitimising him, meeting him and talking with him,” he said.

The office of defence minister Benny Gantz, who has been the point person in the Israeli government for contact with the Palestinian leader, contacted Mr Abbas and made it clear that his statements were unacceptable, demanding that he renounce his words.

Mr Gantz described Mr Abbas’s remarks as “contemptible and mendacious”, saying the statement reflected an attempt to distort and rewrite history.

Dani Dayan, the chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial centre in Jerusalem, said “Abbas’s contemptuous comments about ‘50 Holocausts’ were shamefully low”.

Mr Abbas’s remarks prompted a torrent of criticism from German politicians. Opposition leader Friedrich Merz, chairman of the opposition Christian Democratic Union, criticised Mr Scholz for not challenging Mr Abbas immediately. The chancellor “should have contradicted him, clearly and distinctly, and asked him to leave the building”.

Germany’s handling of Mr Abbas’s remarks has added an extra burden to the already problematic 50th-anniversary ceremony for the Munich massacre on September 5th.

Relatives of the dead Israeli Olympic team members are to boycott the event, in protest at years of dispute with Germany over access to files and the level of compensation payments. They have urged Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, to stay away from the Munich ceremony.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem