While European Union officials praised Yasser Arafat’s decision to appoint his first-ever prime minister, historians of the Holocaust were wincing at the thought that a leading candidate for the job is the author of a book questioning whether the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews.
The candidate is Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, Arafat’s second in command. His book, published in Arabic in 1983, is titled “The Other Side: The Secret Relations Between Nazism and the Leadership of the Zionist Movement.” It was originally his doctoral dissertation, completed at a Moscow college during the 1970s. The book, discovered in an Amman bookstore in 1995 and reported at the time in the Jerusalem Post, raises hard questions for Israel and the West.
According to a translation provided by the Wiesenthal Center, Abbas’s book repeatedly attempts to cast doubt on the fact that the Nazis slaughtered 6 million Jews. He writes: “Following the war, word was spread that six million Jews were amongst the victims and that a war of extermination was aimed primarily at the Jews… The truth is that no one can either confirm or deny this figure. In other words, it is possible that the number of Jewish victims reached six million, but at the same time it is possible that the figure is much smaller — below one million.” Abbas denies that the gas chambers were used to murder Jews, quoting a “scientific study” to that effect by French Holocaust-denier Robert Faurisson.
Abbas claims the number 6 million is the product of a Zionist conspiracy: “It seems that the interest of the Zionist movement, however, is to inflate this figure so that their gains will be greater,” he writes. “This led them to emphasize this figure [6 million] in order to gain the solidarity of international public opinion with Zionism. Many scholars have debated the figure of six million and reached stunning conclusions —-fixing the number of Jewish victims at only a few hundred thousand.” Another falsehood. In fact, no serious scholar proposes such a figure.
After reducing the magnitude of the Nazi slaughter so that it no longer seems to have been a full-scale Holocaust, Abbas seeks to absolve the Nazis by blaming the Zionist leadership for whatever killings did take place. According to Abbas, “a partnership was established between Hitler’s Nazis and the leadership of the Zionist movement… [the Zionists gave] permission to every racist in the world, led by Hitler and the Nazis, to treat Jews as they wish, so long as it guarantees immigration to Palestine.” In addition to encouraging the persecution of Jews so they would emigrate to the Holy Land, the Zionist leaders actually wanted Jews to be murdered, because — in Abbas’s words — “having more victims meant greater rights and stronger privilege to join the negotiation table for dividing the spoils of war once it was over. However, since Zionism was not a fighting partner — suffering victims in a battle — it had no escape but to offer up human beings, under any name, to raise the number of victims, which they could then boast of at the moment of accounting.”
When Abbas’s words first came to the West’s attention in 1995, he was questioned by the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv. His reply was a cynical attempt to frame the matter as politics. “When I wrote ‘The Other Side’… we were at war with Israel,” Abbas said. “Today I would not have made such remarks… Today there is peace and what I write from now on must help advance the peace process.”
In most Western countries, Holocaust-deniers have been treated as pariahs. In Canada and many European countries, Holocaust-denial is a criminal offense. In New Zealand, Canterbury University recently issued an apology for having accepting a master’s thesis denying the Holocaust, while the French minister of education revoked a doctoral degree that was awarded to a Holocaust-denier by the University of Nantes. A Polish university professor who denied the Holocaust was suspended from his position. The Japanese publisher Bungei Shunju shut down one of its magazines for printing an article denying the Holocaust.
International pressure compelled Croatian president Franjo Tudjman to publicly retract statements in his book doubting that the Holocaust had taken place. Austrian Freedom Party leader Jörg Haider was ostracized by the international community for his remarks praising members of the Waffen S.S., as was French politician Jean Marie Le Pen, for questioning the existence of the gas chambers and belittling the significance of the Holocaust.
Yet some in the media have treated Abbas with kid gloves, to say the least. The official BBC News profile of Abbas reports: “A highly intellectual man, Abbas studied law in Egypt before doing a Ph.D. in Moscow. He is the author of several books.” The New York Times recently characterized Abbas as “a lawyer and historian… He holds a doctorate in history from the Moscow Oriental College; his topic was Zionism.” Neither the BBC nor the Times have offered any further explanation as to the contents of Abbas’s writings.
If Abbas is elevated to the post of prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, not only the media but the entire international community will be confronted with the question of whether Abbas deserves to be treated any differently from the pariahs Haider and Le Pen — or, for that matter, the repentant Tudjman.
Rafael Medoff is visiting scholar in the Jewish studies program at the State University of New York-Purchase College. His latest book is “A Race Against Death: Peter Bergson, America, and the Holocaust,” coauthored with David Wyman.