The goal of every speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to an international audience is to push his cause. That was the case with his speech to the European Parliament last week. Let us establish some facts about that speech:
He said Israel was acting above international law and by settling the West Bank and had undermined the two state solution;
He called on the west to support a two-state solution on the ’67 lines;
He said Israel was exporting violence to the occupied West Bank and cited the killings of the Dawabshe family, of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, and the execution of Palestinians accused of attacks;
He described Gaza as an open-air prison and asked why international law did not apply to Israel’s isolation of the strip;
He brought up the “fascism” charges leveled at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu by Ehud Barak and Moshe Ya’alon, maybe hoping they would get the attention they deserved in places like the NY Times, which has largely ignored the story till now.
He called on Europe to appoint an incitement arbitration committee to call out incitement on both sides. And in that EXACT context he lamented the incitement by West Bank rabbis calling for poisoning the water of Palestinians living under occupation and said that this was an example of incitement and a provocation and a call to violence.
That last statement is the only thing we have seen in the American press in the coverage of Abbas’s speech.
The New York Times’s Diaa Hadid set the tone in an article headlined, Mahmoud Abbas Claims Rabbis Urged Israel to Poison Palestinians’ Water. Abbas uttered an “anti-semitic trope,” says the Washington Post’s Ruth Eglash. AFP also made hay of the Palestinian president’s statement:
“Israel accused the Palestinian president of libelling the Jewish people after he charged Thursday that rabbis had called for Palestinian wells to be poisoned. ‘Abu Mazen showed his true face in Brussels,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement, using a familiar Arabic name for president Mahmud Abbas.” “Someone who refuses to meet [Israeli president Reuven] Rivlin …..and spreads a blood libel in the European parliament falsely claiming that his hand is extended in peace.”
On Friday night, the Palestinian leader’s bureau issued a statement saying that it has now become evident that statements by a rabbi on poisoning Palestinian water, which were reported by various Arab media outlets last week, were “baseless.” The Washington Post headline was “Palestinian President Abbas apologizes for anti-semitic comments.”
“Palestine is the cradle of the three monotheistic faiths. We stand strongly against any attack on any religion,” read the statement released in English. “President Mahmoud Abbas has affirmed that he didn’t intend to do harm to Judaism or to offend Jewish people around the world.”
Netanyahu’s response to the apology upped the ante. Abbas is opposed to peace.
“Abu Mazen again proved that he isn’t interested in direct negotiations with Israel, and worse than that, he is spreading despicable lies about Israel and Judaism,” Netanyahu said at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, referring to Abbas. “While he was quick to issue a feeble, half-hearted apology, what he said is compatible with the things he’s said at other opportunities, including at the UN, and people can conclude from this who wishes to advance peace and who doesn’t.”
At this point, any half serious journalist must ask one simple question about this story: Was Abbas’s statement innocent or malicious? Did Abbas think that the statement about the rabbis’ was true and so he was expressing genuine outrage to the European Parliament? Or, as reported, did he intend to repeat a 700-year-old blood libel because he is anti-Semitic?
The answer is obvious. Abbas did not know that the the poisoning water story was debunked.
Think about what it would mean in real life if Abbas was intentionally attempting to play on ancient anti semitic stereotypes here. Abbas would have to be thinking as he went to Brussels, “Nothing seems to be working with this European Parliament audience.” And then suddenly, out of the blue, a Jew hatred epiphany: To get the support of the Christians in the room he needed to remind them of the stories of Jews poisoning Christian water! That would shake them out of their apathy over what was happening to the Palestinian people.
The absurdity of the claim is borne out by the overwhelming response to Abbas’s misstatement. Does anyone think that he really wanted his many points about the occupation to a European audience to be overshadowed by the craziness that has descended on his water comments? Did he really intend for the Israeli Prime Minister to get to issue a denunciation of his comments, and for the New York Times to run not one but two stories about the mistake? Of course not.
No one was more thrilled by Abbas’s “incitement” than the Israeli prime minister. Because if you have not noticed, Benjamin Netanyahu’s only strategic vision is to win the news cycle; and in this case he won the cycle for two or three days’ running.
Did Abbas really mean for all that to happen when he was giving a serious speech to European diplomats? No. The Palestinian president is not that self-destructive. He has not led a conciliatory life into his 80’s just so he could throw around slurs against Jews.
The only logical interpretation of Abbas’s statement is that it was an innocent mistake. For if Abbas had known it was a bad story, he could have easily predicted the chain reaction to his “anti-semitism.” Netanyahu and his propagandists’ hasbara campaigns against the Palestinians are no secret. Neither is the repeating message: “The Palestinian national movement and its supporters are driven by Jew hatred. And that acts of resistance to occupation, violent or not, by Palestinians and their supporters is a continuation of an ancient hatred of Jews. That ancient hatred is the impetus of all opponents of Israel.”
This is the narrative Israeli leaders have been selling. And the old furniture salesman Netanyahu and his apostles here such as Jeffrey Goldberg will lie and cheat to make that sale. And so we are supposed to believe that Abbas said to himself: Why don’t I give you guys some gift-wrapped hasbara? All of Jeffrey Goldberg’s years of hard work tainting the Palestinians and their supporters with the “anti semitism” label– Abbas thought to himself, Why not give Goldberg a good oldfashioned Jews poisoning water blood libel to work with! And work with it, he did:
Is it in Abbas’s interest that Jewish tribal halfwits such as Yair Rosenberg are now spreading the poison that Abbas is anti semitic?
How many Jews and others are reading the malarkey in the New York Times and other mainstream outlets and thinking, How can Israel trust Abbas? How many of them have even read Abbas’s apology? If they did, would they realize he is not the inciter here? Would they see that it’s obvious he wants Jews on his side of the struggle? “Palestine is the cradle of the three monotheistic faiths. We stand strongly against any attack on any religion.”
Yet how can he compete with the discourse poisoners?
On any other issue in the world, the New York Times knows the difference between something intentional and unintentional. Knows that it matters if the harm was intended. Does it not interest the Times that the message has been unambiguous from Israeli intelligence officials as long as anyone can remember: “Abbas does not incite.”
Does the Times not understand that Abbas doesn’t need a “blood libel” to condemn Israel? That Abbas does not want for occupation horror stories– that the reality of the occupation is bad enough.
In fact, all this is similar to Bernie Sanders’s misstatement of deaths in Gaza — 10,000 he guessed, off the cuff to the Daily News, even as he looked around to reporters and asked, “Help me out here, because I don’t remember the figures. Does that sound right?” And then Sanders’s misstatement also was turned into nothing less than a blood libel, by opportunistic Israel supporters. And the media blew up an innocent statement into endless headlines. And now the New York Times gotten two big stories in a row out of Abbas’s alleged anti-semitism.
So we come to the real problem: the crazed response to Abbas’s misstatement is a tribal Jewish one. “Oh my god, there the gentiles go again! How can he say these things about us?” As if Abbas is another evil goy who just can’t wait to spout bigotry. To believe that is to believe that the whole world thinks like ethnocentric Jews: that Abbas when complaining about the crazy settler rabbis is making connections to medieval European Jewish history in his head.
Then as soon as the charge of anti-semitism is made, there can be one legitimate response of our media, outrage. Because they have adopted the Jewish tribal narrative put out by Benjamin Netanyahu and his propagandist disciples, that all the goyim have always hated the Jews and they always will. So when Abbas stumbles in Brussels, there’s nothing innocent about it.
That is the real crime here. That is the lie. That is the manipulation. That a Palestinian leader having spent his life compromising on Palestinian rights is somehow going to wait till he’s in Europe in front of non-Jewish leaders to let loose with his hatred of Jews. Indeed, that the whole world just can’t wait to come out with the 700-year-old blood libels against the Jews.
When the world really doesn’t even know about that 700-year-old story. When no one in that European audience was thinking, “there go the Jews again, poisoning the water supply.”
That is just a fantasy. It has nothing to do with the real world. And the New York Times has shown itself to be a proud member of this Jewish tribal fantasy world.
This is a serious failing because the newspaper’s decisions about how to report these stories makes peace more or less possible. The Times should have had the integrity to treat Abbas’s misstatement as an innocent error: it should have left it till the end of the story. It should have told us the real news. Instead this Times article did even worse than that. It tried to make a case against Abbas. The last paragraph of Hadid’s article reads:
“In October, he erroneously accused Israeli forces of killing a 13 year old Palestinian boy who had taken part in the stabbings of two Israelis. The boy had actually been wounded and later recovered.”
You cannot read this paragraph any other way than:
“This is not the first time Abbas has made stuff up about the Jews.”
Meanwhile the reality of Israel and Palestine is just what Abbas actually described in his speech: creeping fascism in Israel and violence in the occupied territories. That is the real news.
The same day as Abbas was strung up in the world press for a misstatement, Israeli soldiers opened fire on a Palestinian vehicle in the occupied territories because they suspected that the car was carrying boys who had thrown stones, and as a result killed a 15-year-old boy traveling with his family from an outing– and later admitted they had done so “by mistake.” Israeli soldiers indiscriminately killing a boy with his life in front of him: that is the reality in Israel and Palestine, today.
But it will not be the headline in the New York Times so long as an accidental misstatement that reminds ethnocentric fanatics about long forgotten anti-semitic canards is more “real” to editors in New York than another dead Palestinian kid.