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Mahmoud Abbas seals his intellectually impoverished legacy

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Mahmoud Abbas’s April 30 speech has since become known as his “anti-Semitic speech” acquired an entirely unwarranted and undeserved degree of fame since it was issued. Albeit to a lesser extent, the speech’s absurd sense of self-importance and intellectual poverty also undoubtedly caused offence to those unfortunate enough to witness it.

Palestinians have been long accustomed to the absurdities of a peace process in which the architects of occupation are permitted to adorn themselves in the clothing of peace. However, even their credulity was pushed to the outermost limit as they watched Abbas boast of his extensive reading on the subject before offering a speech laden with distortions and inaccuracies.

As a Palestinian I am not obliged to defend Abbas, his political project (or lack thereof) or intellectual pretensions. In the post-Oslo era, a gulf has emerged between the Palestinian population and its leadership, who are now more accountable to external donors than those they ostensibly represent. The deficiencies of the leadership are considerable in scope and number; as such, it is no coincidence that Palestinians’ commitment to solidarity with international and Jewish activists should have been taken up by the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement rather than the official leadership.

During his most recent appearance, Abbas urged protesting Palestinians not to take part in the demonstrations on Gaza’s border with Israel as he did not want a handicapped generation. He saw no contradiction between this intervention and his role in helping to enforce, and even tighten, the inhuman blockade upon the Gaza Strip. The main impediment to a sustained Palestinian uprising also encountered no contradiction, let alone shame, in presuming to instruct Gazans, upon the appropriate course of revolutionary action.

As Abbas’s performance unravelled, I felt a strong sense of sadness that the (albeit self-appointed and widely discredited) leader of the Palestinian nation should so casually indulge one of the most pernicious of anti-Semitic canards – namely that the victims of genocide should be asked to bear, in substantial part, responsibility for their own persecution and murder. While Abbas did not (at least on this occasion) lower himself to the level of Holocaust denial, his presentation nonetheless recalled its intellectual cowardice, historical selectivity and callous disregard for human suffering in almost every respect

However, Abbas’s abdication of responsibility was more than just purely intellectual. Historically, the Palestinian struggle against occupation was assisted by Jews whose political stance was grounded within an unflinching commitment to humanist principles. By virtue of this commitment, they were often forced to endure extreme hostility from within their community, society and even family. During the first intifada I was an activist and frequently encountered these Jewish activists during protests and solidarity actions. It was only later that I came to understand the full extent of their bravery or what they had endured in the service of their beliefs.

Instead of flirting with anti-semitic tropes, Abbas could also have taken the opportunity to salute those Jews who continue to stand alongside the Palestinians in their struggle for universal rights. Abbas’s political mindset is still encased in negotiating room and the corridors of political power, so I am not sure if he is aware of the anti-BDS legislation that equally impacts Jews and Palestinians by attempting to silence them. Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) is one of the groups that have been blacklisted by the Israeli authorities and banned from entering Israel. In 2014, 40 Holocaust survivors and immediate descendants of Holocaust survivors spoke out against the IDF’s onslaught on the Gaza Strip.

Abbas’s speech served to underline his own political irrelevance and also served demonstrate the limited relevance of discourse within the wider context of the conflict. External donors, as the fabricated outrage over Palestinian “incitement” and children’s textbooks continues to reiterate, cling to the illusion that words have the ability to change reality, in apparent defiance of the convoluted experience of a “peace process,” in which words and reality became diametrically opposed and even alien to each other.

Ultimately it is collaborative action that will surmount the limited mindsets and words of discredited politicians with little more to offer than their personal and political prejudices. It is in joint struggle grounded within humanist values that I and others anticipate the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I now belatedly grasp these specks of optimism, doing so in the full knowledge that they sustain me as I reflect upon Abbas’s dismal speech.

About Nadia Naser-Najjab

Nadia Naser-Najjab is a research fellow at the European Centre for Palestine Studies, at the University of Exeter. She formerly taught European civilization at Birzeit University.

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42 Responses

  1. eljay
    eljay
    May 9, 2018, 11:17 am

    I wonder if the “anti-Semitic speech” was merely an attempt by Abbas – ever the liability for Palestinians – to distract attention from the impending pay cut for civil servants in Gaza.

    • CigarGod
      CigarGod
      May 9, 2018, 9:19 pm

      Of course.
      Squeeze the poor bastards is just another step.
      Hell, they are already locked up in camps.
      Who is going to win the bid for all that free labor?

  2. lyn117
    lyn117
    May 9, 2018, 4:22 pm

    IMHO Abbas was as much appointed as elected. The Americans negotiating Oslo kind of pointed at him as who they wanted to negotiate with after Arafat, and I’m afraid the rest of the Palestinian team sort of (from my perspective) fell in line. Abbas got all kinds of praise from the Israelis at that time, despite his history of holocaust denial or semi-denial.

    Note: not speaking as Palestinian. Just my opinion.

    • Stephen Shenfield
      Stephen Shenfield
      May 9, 2018, 5:08 pm

      Abbas should be given a little credit where it is due, because he is now refusing to finish the job for which the Israelis appointed him. He is refusing to enter into negotiations that given the balance of forces can only result in a total sellout (or, if he refuses to take the final step, in more accusations of sabotaging peace). He is refusing demands to stop seeking support at the UN, stop taking Israeli war crimes to the ICC, and accept the continued mediation of the US. If he keeps it up he will at least have left open the possibility of others continuing the struggle and that is not an insignificant axhievement.

  3. Stephen Shenfield
    Stephen Shenfield
    May 9, 2018, 4:42 pm

    President Rouhani handled the issue of the Holocaust in a very sensible and honest way. He distanced himself from the Holocaust denial of his predecessor Ahmadinejad and asserted that the Holocaust really had happened and was a terrible thing, but refused to say anything further on the subject on the grounds that this was a matter for historians and he was not a historian. Abbas too is not a historian. He has come across a few books that impressed him but he lacks the extensive knowledge needed to assess these books properly. For instance, he has read Arthur Koestler’s book The Thirteenth Tribel, which argues the appealing hypothesis of the Khazar descent of most Ashkenazi Jews, but is unaware of the latest genetic research that fails to support this hypothesis. Nor does he understand the feudal society of medieval Europe within which Jews were compelled to take up such occupations as moneylending, which were prohibited for Christians. He would do better to avoid historical controversies and concentrate his energy on his proper tasks.

    • gamal
      gamal
      May 9, 2018, 8:01 pm

      “which were prohibited for Christians”

      neither of great the houses of Bardi or Peruzzi were Jewish and yet lent money at interest, famously the merchant bank aspects of their businesses collapsed when Edward 3rd defaulted, i don’t recall the rates but know that their losses calculated with the incurred interest that they would have expected to charge are reckoned at 700,000 florins and 500,000 florins respectively, they fell out of banking but are still around and aristocrats, at least Bardi and thus I guess Peruzzi also, Edwin Hunt writes about them, they adapted Eastern commercial practises, double entry bookkeeping and issuance of cheques…there is some interesting stuff about Jews using Christian intermediaries so as to be able to realise an interest bearing transaction between themselves, the intermediary charged a fee drawn on the interest,

      I think the story of European Jews is more complex and interesting, they were a significant part of the rebellious “robber bands” of medieval Europe..Benjamin writes about them, like gangs or something equally racy and exciting, not all accountants.

      • Stephen Shenfield
        Stephen Shenfield
        May 10, 2018, 6:19 am

        Complex and interesting, yes. The Bardi and Peruzzi families were Florentines and Florence and other Italian city states were outside the direct control of the Catholic Church. They were islands of emergent mercantile capitalism in the feudal sea. I was talking more about the pure feudal model, from which reality diverged more or less in different places and at different times. The “robber bands” were another example. There were even Jewish mercenaries and Jews who joined the Cossacks (hough they had to convert to Christianity first).

      • gamal
        gamal
        May 10, 2018, 10:54 am

        ” I was talking more about the pure feudal model, from which reality diverged more or less in different places and at different”

        I know very little about this history only these very few facts because it was part of material I had to organise for a guy working in sharia compliant financial instruments, and there was all this stuff about Venetian, I honestly didn’t know they were Florentine, bankers and i was struck that in the back of mind I thought lending at interest was not allowed at that time, I know very little about feudal Europe, it never came up much in my reading.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        May 10, 2018, 4:17 pm

        “gamal”, thank you. I was finding it very difficult to forgive the Christians for forcing us into the banking and financing business, especially as it was becoming the basis for economies all around the world.
        Now I have a broader outlook.

      • Citizen
        Citizen
        May 11, 2018, 1:37 pm

        Christian bans on usury commenced officially from 4th Century AD, beginning with application to the Church, and spreading to apply to all Christians, up to around 1620, according to theologian Ruston, when “usury passed from being an offence against public morality which a Christian government was expected to suppress to being a matter of private conscience [and] a new generation of Christian moralists redefined usury as excessive interest”

      • Citizen
        Citizen
        May 11, 2018, 1:38 pm

        @ Mooser

        Deadly irony, courtesy the moose.

    • zaid
      zaid
      May 10, 2018, 3:44 pm

      “but is unaware of the latest genetic research that fails to support this hypothesis. ”

      Wrong. Genetics shows the Khazarian hypothesis to be true.

      • Citizen
        Citizen
        May 11, 2018, 1:39 pm

        I think this controversy is on-going in genetic research

      • zaid
        zaid
        May 11, 2018, 2:03 pm

        In the past it was controversial but not anymore.

        Recently, scientists developed methods that allows them to extract intact DNA from ancient skeletons, which is something they couldnot do before.

        Results from samples taken from Palestine and around showed no similarity to modern day Jews and showed Palestinians to be direct descendants from them who lived in Palestine for thousands of years.

    • Keith
      Keith
      May 10, 2018, 5:11 pm

      STEPHEN SHENFIELD- ” …Jews were compelled to take up such occupations as moneylending, which were prohibited for Christians.”

      What, exactly, was the penalty for failure to become a financier? Would rebellious financiers be allowed to return to the peasantry?

      • MHughes976
        MHughes976
        May 10, 2018, 5:53 pm

        See RW Dorin ‘Banishing Usury’ Harvard 2015 – it’s a complicated story indeed. Current thinking, apparently, is that Jews were not as fully excluded from other occupations as had been supposed but they were provided with an opportunity to meet the needs of an expanding mercantile society because of the readiness of some secular rulers to ‘protect’ them and their banking businesses as a source of taxation, ie I suppose to offer them a monopoly. They were not directly subject to the Bishops’ courts. This is the situation commended by Thomas Aquinas’ ‘Letter to the Duchess of Brabant’ of around 1270. But that was not to be how things settled down. In 1274 a Church Council called for the expulsion from every Christian state of foreign moneylenders and the Jews were increasingly caught up in the consequences of this. It’s quite hard to support the Abbas idea, if it is fairly attributed to him, that Jews were expelled because they were a genuinely negative economic force in Christian society.

      • MHughes976
        MHughes976
        May 10, 2018, 6:01 pm
    • Nathan
      Nathan
      May 12, 2018, 2:45 pm

      Steven Shenfield – Mahmoud Abbas has a PhD in history, so by definition he is an historian. His PhD thesis is full of conspiracy theories, so it’s not a very impressive thesis. Actually, he presents a history that is really a figment of his own imagination. Throughout history, the animosity against the Jews was always based on grievances that were a figment of the imagination – and, Abbas’ thesis, therefore, is a wonderful presentation of this strange phenomenon. It is not a waste of time reading his book.

      Still, it must be stated again that he was awarded the doctorate (1983), so he is by definition an historian.

      If you can read Arabic, you can look at his presidential website at http://president.ps/books.aspx (where all his books are presented, including his PhD thesis entitled: “al-Wajh al-Akhar: al-‘Alaqat as-Sirriya bayna an-Naziya wa’s-Sihyuniya”).

  4. lyn117
    lyn117
    May 9, 2018, 9:29 pm

    Modern genetic research does support the Khazarian hypothesis, see https://academic.oup.com/gbe/article/5/1/61/728117

    • Jon66
      Jon66
      May 9, 2018, 10:38 pm

      The last line of the paper you link to is “We conclude that the genome of European Jews is a tapestry of ancient populations including Judaized Khazars, Greco–Roman Jews, Mesopotamian Jews, and Judeans and that their population structure was formed in the Caucasus and the banks of the Volga with roots stretching to Canaan and the banks of the Jordan.”

      • gamal
        gamal
        May 9, 2018, 11:15 pm

        its better with the bit you excised

        ” Our findings support the Khazarian hypothesis depicting a large Near Eastern–Caucasus ancestry along with Southern European, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European ancestries, in agreement with recent studies and oral and written traditions”

        and also the startling result that Saudis (Arabians) are (distribute separately) distinct from other middle eastern populations, what does that mean?

      • Stephen Shenfield
        Stephen Shenfield
        May 10, 2018, 6:07 am

        Yes, there are Jews in Crimea and elsewhere in the Khazar heartland who trace their ancestry back to the Khazars. I met one myself. I would never deny the Khazar element in the genes of Ashkenazi Jewry. But recent research shows that it is far from the dominant element and in that sense the Khazar hypothesis is not supported. At the same time the Levantine element is also far from dominant, so if Abbas wants to argue that Ashkenazi Jews are not native to the region he can stress that point.

      • gamal
        gamal
        May 10, 2018, 11:36 am

        ” so if Abbas wants to argue that Ashkenazi Jews are not native to the region he can stress that point”

        I suppose he could but this whole insanity derives from this way of looking at ancestry and descent contrived by Zionism, the history of the actual population of the area is also complex I am apparently descended from a group some of whom who were at one time Hijazi Jews, that is not an area of dispute in the family, we have no information about when our forbears “converted”, there are in our history as in everyones many lacunae, Zaid once reminded me, rather sharply, how much Arabs do not like this way of looking at things,

        the problem is the savage injustice of Zionism not what we think of “Jews”, the point is the theft of the rights of Palestinians not their failure to recognise one whole lot of irrelevance about the nature of Jewish descent, experience or history, I think discussions of Palestinian attitudes to Israelis, Jews or the Holocaust are an incredible act of arrogant inhumanity on the part of western observers,

        its not the issue and making it an issue in the overall context Europeans and Americans and Israelis are going to lecture us about prejudice, don’t make me laugh,

        In Germany a woman is being told she can’t wear a Hijab as a teacher and in France prominent people have called for the re-writing of the Quran, while we prepare to destroy Syria and Iran,

        have already slaughtered untold numbers, but Holocaust denial? really be serious.

      • zaid
        zaid
        May 10, 2018, 3:57 pm

        Here is the most recent genetic analysis about the origin if AJs (Ashkenazi Jews).

        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5478715/

        “GPS localized most AJs along major ancient trade routes in northeastern Turkey adjacent to primeval villages with names that resemble the word “Ashkenaz.” These findings were compatible with the hypothesis of an Irano-Turko-Slavic origin for AJs and a Slavic origin for Yiddish and at odds with the Rhineland hypothesis advocating a Levantine origin for AJs and German origins for Yiddish. ”

        “The non-Levantine origin of AJs is further supported by an ancient DNA analysis of six Natufians and a Levantine Neolithic (Lazaridis et al., 2016), some of the most likely Judaean progenitors (Finkelstein and Silberman, 2002; Frendo, 2004). In a principle component analysis (PCA), the ancient Levantines clustered predominantly with modern-day Palestinians and Bedouins and marginally overlapped with Arabian Jews, whereas AJs clustered away from Levantine individuals and adjacent to Neolithic Anatolians and Late Neolithic and Bronze Age Europeans”

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        May 10, 2018, 4:36 pm

        ” and in France prominent people have called for the re-writing of the Quran”

        Yeah, heard that today on the radio. Do they have a word for chutzpah in French?

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        May 10, 2018, 8:58 pm

        “the genome of European Jews is a tapestry of ancient populations…” “Jon66”

        Notice that “Jon 66” has a completely different slant on this Jewish-genes stuff from “Boris”. Very hard not to conclude that “Jon 66” lacks certain essential genes, and is therefore down-playing their importance.
        I wonder how “Jon 66” would stand up to “23andme.com”?
        Real Jewish genes, or the “descendants of converts”?

      • MHughes976
        MHughes976
        May 11, 2018, 12:39 pm

        I sometimes wonder why the Zionists so dislike the Khazar hypothesis – maybe it just shows that Israel has the right to another province, this time by the Volga, it being quite likely that rabbinic Judaism was practised there for a long time and that there was a violent expulsion. I think that the answer is that despite the trappings of science, genetics and all that, that it wears Zionism, Christian Z most obviously, is really about a theological demand for Palestine based on the biblical claims about a divine mandate.

      • Jon66
        Jon66
        May 11, 2018, 1:02 pm

        Hughes,
        “I sometimes wonder why the Zionists so dislike the Khazar hypothesis“

        Personally I neither like nor dislike it any more than I do global warming any other scientific hypothesis. If it’s correct, than it’s correct. I’m not a geneticist but it seems that this one is far from a scientific consensus.

      • annie
        annie
        May 11, 2018, 2:34 pm

        I’m not a geneticist but it seems that this one is far from a scientific consensus.

        dna profiling is only a few decades old. whatever the current consensus is or is not, one thing is fairly certain, it’s not far off — probably a decade at the most.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        May 11, 2018, 8:12 pm

        “fairly certain, it’s not far off — probably a decade at the most.”

        I can’t wait! Then we will be able to separate genetically authentic Jews from the “descendants of converts”.
        What other religion is clever enough to use science to prove how few they are!

      • eljay
        eljay
        May 11, 2018, 9:14 pm

        || Mooser: … I can’t wait! Then we will be able to separate genetically authentic Jews from the “descendants of converts”.
        What other religion is clever enough to use science to prove how few they are! ||

        They would be few but they would be mighty, armed with power to wield accusations of “authentic anti-Semitism” and “genetic-Jew hatred”.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        May 12, 2018, 11:57 am

        “They would be few but they would be mighty”

        Everybody knows that in politics and religion, rarity determines value.

  5. Peter in SF
    Peter in SF
    May 10, 2018, 5:10 am

    “the speech’s absurd sense of self-importance and intellectual poverty”

    I’m sorry, but this article itself shows some self-importance — read its last sentence, if nothing else — and I find it intellectually impoverished in not actually quoting any of the speech itself.

    This article mentions Jewish Voice for Peace. Well, a few years ago, I went to a talk on anti-Semitism (for a non-Jewish audience) by a leading member of JVP. The speaker explained that historically, anti-Semitism is the anti-Jewish sentiment that developed in Europe where Jews attached themselves to the rulers, out of a need for self-preservation, but then when the rulers became rapacious, they’d exploit their subjects by getting Jews to do the dirty work, and then the Jews got blamed by the general population for the rapacity of their rulers. We were told that this phenomenon is what goes by the name anti-Semitism. I was reminded of this JVP leader’s talk when I first heard the complaints about the Abbas speech, which gives broadly the same historical account.

    • Citizen
      Citizen
      May 11, 2018, 1:57 pm

      Socio-economic roles of peasants versus those of Jews in Poland, for example, under domain of Polish royalty, was crucial. 200 Years Together also brings this out in Czarist Russia.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        May 11, 2018, 7:34 pm

        “200 Years Together also brings this out…”

        Interesting book.

      • Citizen
        Citizen
        May 12, 2018, 8:07 pm

        Yeah, if you can read Russian, German, or French, you can read all of 200 Years Together from the Noble Prize winning author. No full translation in English yet. Interesting, eh?

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        May 12, 2018, 8:46 pm

        “No full translation in English yet.”

        Try this one.
        I read it, and it seems to be all there.

      • Peter in SF
        Peter in SF
        May 14, 2018, 2:36 am

        Citizen, would you say that my summary of what I heard from a JVP leader sounds about right, and also what Abbas said is about right? Or do their accounts different from the historical in any important ways?

  6. Mooser
    Mooser
    May 10, 2018, 4:31 pm

    “they’d exploit their subjects by getting Jews to do the dirty work,”

    While a team of shabbes goys manned the teller-windows and the drive-through?

  7. Keith
    Keith
    May 10, 2018, 5:36 pm

    NADIA NASER-NAJJIB- ” In the post-Oslo era, a gulf has emerged between the Palestinian population and its leadership, who are now more accountable to external donors than those they ostensibly represent.”

    Indeed, Abbas is essentially an imperial quisling who depends upon international funding for his employment, the West Bank Palestinian military/police equipped and trained by the US for the purpose of controlling the Palestinian population.

    A less serious problem, but a problem nonetheless, is the extent to which diaspora Palestinians living and working in the imperial West are frequently dependent upon the so-called solidarity NGOs for their funding and well-being. For example, JVP has a history of utilizing charges of anti-Semitism to control the discourse and set the agenda for groups such as the “Free Gaza Movement,” and when that fails withdrawing support. Even now, the emphasis on the Right of Return rather than on stopping the killing and maiming and ending the illegal blockade seems to me counterproductive to the current Gaza protests.

    “B’Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd, Muhammad Sabah and Khaled al-‘Azayzeh documented not only casualties, but also the back line of the demonstrations: teens playing soccer, women baking bread, food stalls, and Gazans asking for an end to the Israeli blockade that has made their lives intolerable.” https://www.btselem.org/node/211997

  8. Maghlawatan
    Maghlawatan
    May 11, 2018, 3:32 pm

    I got 2 emails one after another from haaretz in.my inbox.

    1 was ” Abbas’ antisemitic speech”
    2 was ” Israel planning to formally annex all West Bank settlements”

    Why should any Palestinian care about WW2?

  9. echinococcus
    echinococcus
    May 14, 2018, 12:10 pm

    What a disgrace to read Palestinians attacking their own Quisling for being insufficiently friendly to their tribal invaders.

    So what is the major problem while Palestinians are again being massacred by the US+Zionists (a majority of the Jews)+their PA goons? “Anti-Semitism” and unfriendliness toward the JVP fraud. That’s what you call keeping one’s priorities straight, I suppose.

    The tribal so-called opposition and its collaborators look more and more like effectively under the control of the Zionist propaganda network.

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