The day after, a headlined “Abu Mazen: I will not apologize for the Munich massacre” appeared on page five of Israel’s most popular right-wing newspaper, Israel Today. The brief message failed to mention the fact that the Palestinian President had made a Holocaust comparison. At the same time, the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz ran a small message at the bottom of the first page under the headline “Abbas at a press conference in Germany: Israel committed 50 holocausts against the Palestinians.”
In the rest of the Israeli press, the focus was more on the word “apartheid”, which Abbas had also used. It was only when the waves and outrage from Germany reached Israel’s Prime Minister Jair Lapid that he, who is always sensitive to the topic “Shoah”, reacted vehemently, but directed his anger at Abbas and not at Scholz because of his non-immediate reaction. Many media then followed suit in this sense.
In official Israel and in the media, one is quite certain: Germany is counting on continuity, so it will not give up the promise to regard Israel’s security as a German reason of state, and will also fend off attempts to relativize the Shoah in collective German memory.
The way official Germany has dealt with the issues of anti-Semitism and the Shoah in recent years has been characterized by a number of clear characteristics: Make no mistake and zero tolerance for any “Israel-related anti-Semitism”. Since the Bundestag resolution of May 17, 2019, in which the movement calling for a boycott of Israel (BDS) is condemned and classified as anti-Semitic, has been upgraded to a cornerstone of the constitution, the government and the public in Israel are rather relaxed about the Middle East politics of the German government, even after the departure of Angela Merkel.
Scholz’ clear remark during the press conference with Abbas that he “does not appropriate the term apartheid” in connection with Israel was greeted with satisfaction. The subsequent handshake with Abbas angered the President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, but left little impression on Israelis.
What is evident in this scandal is the conflation of two bilateral relationships that in other cases would have to be separated: that between Israelis and Palestinians and that between Jews and Germans. They become a relational triangle in which each side refers to the past as an argument or a pretext. Abbas knows the particular explosive force of the terms Holocaust and apartheid when he moves in this triangle, just as the representatives of Israel know about the effect that any reference to anti-Semitism creates in the context of Palestinian criticism of Israel.
Germany is also so vulnerable here because both Israelis and Palestinians assume there is an alleged causal connection between the emergence of the Jewish state and the Holocaust that preceded it. This is how the Palestinian self-perception as a victim-of-victims emerged. This causality resulted in an advantage for Israel’s policy: unrestricted support on the part of the Federal Republic. It is forgotten that the Zionist-motivated emigration to Palestine and the conflict between Zionists and Arabs in Palestine had begun long before the Shoah. Also ignored is the fact that during the Shoah millions of potential emigrants to Palestine were murdered, i.e. lost to the Zionist enterprise. This means that anti-Semitism and the Shoah are often less relevant in this triangle.
Also in this triangular relationship can be seen the event that gave rise to the question put to Abbas shortly before the end of the press conference and thus provoked him: the terrorist attack during the 1972 Olympic Games. Although it happened on German soil, it was from perpetrated on Palestinians. It is not without reason that the Federal Republic of Germany feels trapped in the love triangle, even 50 years later. When Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier tried to smooth things over with the issue of compensation for the families of the victims, the memory of the Shoah also had something to do with it, and not just the unprofessional German rescue attempt on September 5, 1972.
The Palestinian organization “Black September” could already guess what a special effect an attack on a team from the Jewish state during the games in Munich (not in Toronto or Melbourne) would have. And Israel was then, as now, able to put Germany under additional pressure because the memory of Germany’s dark past lingers in the back of everyone’s mind. If the triangular relationship had not existed, the question of compensation for the survivors of the attack would have been different.
The incident at the Abbas Scholz press conference in the Federal Chancellery was used primarily by Israeli politicians, who have rejected negotiations with the Palestinians since the peace talks collapsed in 2014, to underpin their slogan: “We don’t have a Palestinian for peace talks Partner.” That was actually the most important thing about this event. Abbas gave a gift to Israeli politicians who are looking for a pretext against resuming negotiations with the Palestinian Authority: There can’t be peace negotiations with the Palestinians, with Shoa deniers – that’s the attitude of these politicians.
In this way, Palestinian President Abbas did the Palestinian cause and the peace activists in Israel an ultimate disservice. If he had mentioned Israel’s misconduct towards the Palestinians in the notorious sentence, but without using the word Holocaust, he might have gained the sympathy of some.
Precisely because Abbas made his statements on German soil, they can become a real stumbling block when it comes to finding a way out of the impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.