I usually don't write with a focus on Israel or her adversaries in my weekly message. There is so much to address here in Rockland, and also many themes that include Israel, but don't focus exclusively on it.
Ironically, for many years researching, training, teaching, lobbying, lecturing and responding to Israel advocacy issues was what I did professionally, and what animated me when I wrote personally - and it still does. So while this may be a bit of a departure, it is also in some way a homecoming.
This week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, (almost 18 years into his 4 year term) traveled to Germany. As he was leaving, he held a press conference with German Chancellor Scholz. And when asked if he (one of the organizers and financiers for Fatah and PLO operatives in Europe in the 1970's) would consider apologizing for the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists 50 years ago, he responded "Israel has committed 50 massacres ...50 massacres, 50 Holocausts." He said this in Germany, in 2022, standing next to the Chancellor. Of course, there was outrage, there was worldwide condemnation (later, from Chancellor Scholz, even though he scowled but said nothing at the time). Abbas' spokesman even partially walked the statement back, when faced with such uniform revulsion.
For me, there is nothing extraordinary about the President of the Palestinain Authority minimizing and relativizing the Shoah. Frankly, I would not have been surprised if he denied it completely, as he has done before. His doctoral thesis at Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow both minimized the extent of the Holocaust and defamed the Jewish self-determination movement as evocative of and complicit with Nazism. In 2018 he was excoriated for similar statements, and at that time he added "So the Jewish question that was widespread throughout Europe was not against their religion but against their social function, which relates to usury and banking and such." The fact that he is personally less intimately involved with violence at this stage of his career than his predecessor Arafat takes nothing away from the fact that he is a raging antisemite and Holocaust minimizer and denier.
It is no surprise either that as Yediot Achronot reported yesterday, the Palestinain Ministry of Education distributes textbooks denying the Holocaust and omitting persecution of Europe's Jews entirely from its WWII narratives. Holocaust denial and minimization is a constant theme in Hamas controlled Gaza as well. As we say on Pesach, Dayenu - that would have been enough. But beyond this governmental and societal rejection of recent Jewish historical experience, there is as absolute a denial of Jewish history in our own homeland; of Jewish aboriginal rights, as defined by our cultural, linguistic, archaeological, genetic legacies, and even of the historicity of our Temples - this despite Palestinians themselves naming Jerusalem Al Quds, with Quds being a shortening of Muqdas, a transliteration of Mikdash...hebrew for Temple.
So, when I hear discussions about Israel not having a partner for peace, I consider this reality. Of course, I also consider Israel's actions, its policies, everything it could have done differently or better (or not done at all) to achieve peace, or at least better outcomes. Israel has to continue to reckon with itself, with its own standards of justice and righteousness, and it needs to rectify what is found wanting, as it has done in the past.
But for a partner, there has to be a starting point. For me, that starting point is a recognition that Israel contains the ancestral aboriginal homeland of the Jewish people, and that Zionism, the national self-determination movement of that people, has led to the re-establishment of a sovereign and strong Jewish state on those ancestral lands. The next step is a recognition of historical truth, the veracity of our legacies of triumph and destruction, of exile and rebirth. These include thousands of years of persecution leading to the unvarnished antisemitism displayed by Abbas, and all the horror that followed from it through the ages.
This, at minimum, needs to be fixed. It can't be fixed by Israel, and it can't be imposed by the US or the EU. It is for the Palestinian people to do. They HAVE agency. They CAN make choices in their own interest. This choice is necessary, but sadly there is no evidence at all that they will make it while Abbas is still President and Hamas is still in power in Gaza. They deserve better, and everyone deserves peace.