Israel honors Holocaust victims as COVID-19 vaccines keep survivors alive

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A memorial siren brought traffic to a halt in Israel on Thursday as it honored six million Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust, and gave thanks for its swift rollout of COVID-19 vaccines as a lifesaver for elderly survivors.

With around 57% of the population having already received at least one vaccine dose, Israel’s infection rate has dropped dramatically.

That has allowed care and nursing homes to open their doors to visitors again, reuniting many of the country’s 180,000 survivors with their loved ones.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said 900 in that community had died as a result of the coronavirus. But many times more had been inoculated in time. Overall, Israel has recorded 6,270 deaths from the virus.

“Some we did not manage to reach with vaccines in time, but writ large, the vaccine succeeded,” he said, addressing the survivors at a ceremony marking the start of the annual Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day. “You got vaccinated at a record rates.”

Israel’s three national lockdowns, “were difficult for us all, but among many of you, they awakened painful memories of the terrible loneliness of your childhood”.

As the sirens sounded nationwide, traffic stopped and motorists stepped out of their vehicles to stand for two minutes in honor of the Holocaust dead.

In a ceremony in parliament, legislators lit memorial candles and read aloud the names of relatives who perished in the Holocaust.

In Bahrain, one of four Arab countries that established official ties with Israel last year, the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities planned a Holocaust remembrance event on the Internet.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; editing by John Stonestreet)

Auschwitz marks anniversary virtually as survivors fear end of an era

By Kacper Pempel and Joanna Plucinska

OSWIECIM, Poland (Reuters) – Marian Turski, a 94-year-old survivor of the Auschwitz death camp, was marking the 76th anniversary of its liberation by Soviet troops on Wednesday only virtually, aware that he might never return as the coronavirus pandemic drags on.

Survivors and museum officials told Reuters they fear the pandemic could end the era where Auschwitz’s former prisoners can tell their own stories to visitors on site. Most Auschwitz survivors are in their eighties and nineties.

“Even if there was no pandemic, there would be fewer survivors at every anniversary,” Turski told Reuters in a Zoom interview from his Warsaw home.

“People at my age who are already vulnerable to many other illnesses are also in the first line of fire for this virus.”

He declined an in-person interview, in part due to the pandemic risks.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum and Memorial preserves the Auschwitz death camp set up on Polish soil by Nazi Germany during World War Two. More than 1.1 million people, most of them Jews, perished in gas chambers at the camp or from starvation, cold and disease.

Wednesday’s ceremony marking the camp’s liberation will take place virtually starting at 1500 GMT, with speeches by survivors, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda and Israeli and Russian diplomats, as well as a debate on the Holocaust’s influence on children.

Other virtual ceremonies will also take place to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The Memorial has been closed to visitors for 161 days due to the pandemic. In 2019 it was visited by around 2.3 million people. In 2020 that number dropped to around 502,000.

The Museum’s director, Piotr Cywinski, acknowledged virtual events and education programs were not as effective in passing on the lessons of the Holocaust and World War Two.

“Nothing will replace witnessing the place in its authentic state, because this isn’t just about seeing and listening. This is about looking around, in your own steps, touching, experiencing different perspectives, understanding,” Cywinski told Reuters.

WARNING THE WORLD

Survivors emphasized the importance of finding ways to keep Auschwitz relevant after they can no longer tell their own stories, amid a rise in far-right movements and anti-Semitism.

In Germany, former finance minister and now president of the lower house of parliament, Wolfgang Schaeuble, warned that “our culture of remembrance does not protect us from a brazen reinterpretation and even a denial of history”.

He added that racism and anti-Semitism were spreading through internet forums and conspiracy theories, stressing society’s collective responsibility to honor the memory of the Holocaust.

Some Auschwitz survivors, like Bogdan Bartnikowski, 89, said they were optimistic that the pandemic would not end their chances of returning to the memorial and telling their stories.

“I have hope that for sure there will continue to be groups of visitors to the museum,” Bartnikowski said. “Us former prisoners will not be lacking.”

(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Kacper Pempel; additional reporting by Philip Pullella and Madeline Chambers; Writing by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Giles Elgood)

U.S. Supreme Court hears World War Two-era Jewish property claims

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The lingering legacy of World War Two reached the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday as the justices weighed two cases involving claims by Jews in Germany and Hungary and their descendants whose property was taken amid persecution that culminated in the Holocaust.

The justices heard arguments in the two cases that hinge upon a federal law called the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act that limits the jurisdiction of American courts over lawsuits against foreign governments.

In one case, the justices considered Germany’s bid to avoid facing a lawsuit in a U.S. court over medieval artwork that its former Nazi government pressured Jewish art dealers to sell in the 1930’s. The other concerns Hungary’s similar attempt to avoid litigation originally brought by 14 U.S. citizens who survived that nation’s World War Two-era campaign of genocide against its Jewish population.

The justices appeared more sympathetic to the arguments made by Germany than Hungary, while also recognizing foreign policy concerns of allowing such claims to be heard in U.S. courts.

The Germany case focuses upon a 17th century collection of medieval art known as the Welfenschatz that includes gem-studded busts of Christian saints, golden crucifixes and other precious objects. The plaintiffs – heirs of the art dealers – have said they are the rightful owners of the collection.

They sued in U.S. federal court in Washington in 2015, saying Germany owes them either the return of the artwork or more than $250 million in damages.

In 1935, a group of Jewish art dealers in Germany sold the collection to the state of Prussia, then being administered by prominent Nazi official Hermann Goering. The plaintiffs said that the sale was a “sham transaction” made under duress.

The art collection is currently in the possession of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, a German governmental entity.

Germany has said that U.S. courts have no role because the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act does not allow claims over the alleged seizure of a citizen’s property by its own government. Some justices questioned that assumption, with Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas among others wondering if “stateless people” who are stripped of citizenship would be left without recourse.

Some justices said the language of the U.S. law seems to be clear that domestic property claims can be permitted if they fall within a broader genocide claim.

“It seems to cover the kind of property-taking that is at issue in this case,” Justice Elena Kagan said.

But Kagan and others also appeared to be worried about a ruling along those lines in part because it might require judges to undertake the contentious task of determining what constitutes a genocide.

A federal judge in Washington ruled against Germany in 2017. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit narrowed the case the following year, saying claims could proceed against the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation but not against Germany’s government itself.

The Hungarian Holocaust survivors filed suit in Washington in 2010 seeking restitution for possessions taken from them and their families when they were forced to board trains destined for concentration camps. A federal judge tossed out the lawsuit in 2017 but the D.C. Circuit revived it a year later, prompting Hungary to appeal to the high court.

Hungary has said that the possibility of “international friction” raised by the lawsuit means it should be dismissed and that the plaintiffs should sue in Hungary first.

The justices appeared reluctant to rule that foreign policy concerns could always be cited as a reason to toss out a lawsuit, but some also seemed reluctant to conclude that such issues should not be taken into account.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Will Dunham)

German, Israeli air forces fly past 1972 Munich Olympic attack site

FUERSTENFELDBRUCK, Germany (Reuters) – German and Israeli fighter jets flew in formation past the site of the 1972 attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics on Tuesday in their first joint exercise in Germany.

As part of their “Blue Wings 2020” maneuvers, German and Israeli pilots flew over the Fuerstenfeldbruck military airfield near Munich to commemorate the attack which left 11 Israelis, a German policeman and five Palestinian gunmen dead.

A gunfight erupted at the airfield after Palestinians from the Black September group took members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage at the poorly secured athletes village on Sept. 5, 1972.

Later the jets flew over the site of the Dachau concentration camp where some 200,000 people, many of them Jews, were imprisoned and 41,500 murdered under Adolf Hitler’s Nazis. Set up in 1933, it was meant as a model for other concentration camps.

Senior officials, including a relative of a camp survivor and German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer were due to take part in a ceremony there.

“Our Air Force pilots flew over the Dachau concentration camp in Germany today,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a tweet. “In Dachau a massacre of the Jewish people took place.

“The big lesson of the Holocaust is that no one will protect the Jews if they do not defend themselves. Today we are defending ourselves. I salute our pilots!”

Since the end of World War Two, Berlin has felt a special responsibility towards Israel and the joint maneuvers are the first time Israeli fighter planes have trained in Germany.

A rise in anti-Semitism, in particular an attack on a synagogue in Halle last year which left two people dead, has caused alarm in Germany.

Luftwaffe chief of staff Ingo Gerhartz said the program was a sign of friendship. The darkest chapter of German history handed the country the “task to resolutely fight anti-Semitism today,” he was quoted by broadcaster BR24 as saying.

(Reporting by Reuters Television; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

Gunman kills two in livestreamed attack at German synagogue

By Thomas Escritt and Stephan Schepers

BERLIN/HALLE, Germany (Reuters) – A gunman who denounced Jews opened fire outside a German synagogue on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, and killed two people as he livestreamed his attack.

Several German media outlets said the perpetrator acted alone on Wednesday in the eastern German city of Halle. He fatally shot a woman outside the synagogue and a man inside a nearby kebab shop.

Two other people were seriously injured, but regional broadcaster MDR said their condition was not critical.

Police said they had detained one person, reported by German magazines Spiegel and Focus Online to be a 27-year-old German named Stephan B. His full name cannot be published under German privacy laws.

Video broadcast on Amazon’s gaming subsidiary Twitch showed a young man with a shaven head first reciting a short statement in broken English while sitting in a parked car.

“I think the Holocaust never happened,” he began, before adding “feminism is the cause of decline in birth rates in the West” and mentioning mass immigration. He concluded: “The root of all these problems is the Jew”, before embarking on his shooting spree.

A spokeswoman for Amazon said Twitch “worked with urgency to remove this content and will permanently suspend any accounts found to be posting or reposting content of this abhorrent act.”

The company later said its investigation suggested that “people were coordinating and sharing the video via other online messaging services,” but did not elaborate.

Reuters found copies and links to the footage posted on Twitter, 4chan and message boards focused on trolling and harassment, as well as multiple white supremacist channels on messaging app Telegram.

In the video, the man drove to the synagogue, found the gates shut and unsuccessfully sought to force the gates open. He then shot several rounds at a woman passerby.

“We saw via the camera system at our synagogue that a heavily armed perpetrator with a steel helmet and a gun tried to shoot open our doors,” Max Privorozki, Halle’s Jewish community chairman, told the Stuttgarter Zeitung newspaper.

“We barricaded the doors from inside and waited for the police,” he said, adding that about 70 to 80 people were inside the synagogue observing Yom Kippur, known as the Day of Atonement which is marked by fasting and solemn prayer.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported, without citing its source, that when he was detained the suspect had a wound to the neck and that security authorities suspected he had attempted suicide.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government voiced outrage over the attack on Yom Kippur and urged tougher action against anti-Semitic violence.

Merkel visited a Berlin synagogue as around 200 people, some holding Israeli flags and candles, held a vigil outside. Merkel’s spokesman tweeted: “We must oppose any form of anti-Semitism.”

‘CALM, LIKE A PROFESSIONAL’

Rifat Tekin, who worked at the Halle kebab outlet, said he was making a kebab for two construction workers when a perpetrator threw an explosive at the restaurant before shooting.

“He was very calm, like a professional,” Tekin told n-tv television. “He didn’t say anything. He just kept coming and shooting … I was hiding behind the salad counter.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent condolences to the victims’ families and said in a Twitter post: “The terrorist attack against the community in Halle in Germany on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of our nation, is yet another expression that anti-Semitism is growing in Europe.”

“I call upon the authorities in Germany to continue to work determinedly against the phenomenon of anti-Semitism.”

Anti-semitism is a particularly sensitive issue in Germany, which during World War Two was responsible for the genocide of 6 million Jews in the Nazi Holocaust. Around 200,000 Jews live today in the country of around 83 million people.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said the shooting was anti-Semitic, adding: “According to the federal prosecutors’ office, there are enough indications that it was possibly a right-wing extremist motive.”

Despite comprehensive de-Nazification in the post-war era, fears of resurgent anti-Semitic hatred have never completely gone away, whether from fringe, far-right neo-Nazis or more recently from Muslim immigrants.

Occasional past attacks have ranged from the scrawling of Nazi swastikas on gravestones to firebombings at synagogues and even several murders. In recent years, cases of assault or verbal abuse, in some cases directed against people wearing traditional Jewish skullcaps, have raised an outcry.

(Additional reporting by Tassilo Hummel, Joseph Nasr, Thomas Escritt, Riham Alkousaa, Gabi Sajonz-Grimm, Michelle Martin, Elizabeth Culliford, Katie Paul and Stephen Farrell; Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Cynthia Osterman and Tom Brown)

Synagogue attack sparks fear among Jews in Germany

By Joseph Nasr

BERLIN (Reuters) – As Jews left Yom Kippur prayers across Germany on Wednesday, they were jolted by word that an anti-Semitic gunman had attacked a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle hours before, killing two people.

The news heightened fears of more anti-Semitic violence in a nation still scarred by the Holocaust and witnessing the rise of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

“It’s very scary,” said Samuel Tsarfati, a 27-year-old stage director, as he left a Berlin synagogue with fellow French national Samuel Laufer.

The pair, who live and work in the German capital, had spent the holiest day in the Jewish calendar secluded in prayer and switched off their mobile phones for 25 hours of fasting.

Other members of Germany’s 200,000-strong Jewish community expressed similar alarm over the attack. After trying to blast into the Halle synogogue, a lone suspect killed a woman outside and a man in a nearby kebab shop.

“It’s not a coincidence it happened in east Germany. The far-right AfD is very strong there,” Tsarfati said. Leaders of the AfD, which made big gains in elections in two eastern states last month, condemned Wednesday’s attack in Halle.

Attacks on Jews rose by 20% last year and were mainly carried out by right-wing extremists. Even before the Halle shooting, a heavy police presence guarded the synagogue in the trendy suburb of Prenzlauer Berg where Tsarfati and Lauferis attended prayers.

Jews and German politicians have been particularly worried by comments by Bjoern Hoecke, the AfD leader of eastern Thuringia state, that the Holocaust memorial in Berlin is a “monument of shame” and that schools should highlight German suffering in World War Two.

“What happened today shows that the AfD should not be underestimated,” said Laufer. “AfD leaders like Hoecke don’t want to see that their words encourage some people to kill.”

Hoecke was among the AfD leaders to condemn the Halle attack.

The Halle gunman broadcast anti-Semitic comments before he opened fire. Several German media outlets said he acted alone although police have not confirmed this.

The far-right AfD entered the national parliament for the first time two years ago, riding a wave of anger at Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to welcome almost 1 million migrants. The party’s rise has alarmed Jewish leaders who condemn the party’s verbal attacks against Muslim migrants.

‘BLINDED BY HATRED’

Charlotte Knobloch, a Holocaust survivor and president of the Jewish Community in Munich, suggested that the AfD’s anti-immigrant rhetoric was contributing to an atmosphere of hate that encouraged political violence.

“This scary attack makes it clear how fast words can become acts of political extremism,” she said in a statement. “I’d be interested to know what that AfD has to say about such excesses, for which it had prepared the ground with its uncultured hate and incitement.”

At the gold-domed New Synagogue in Berlin’s city center about 200 people, including Muslim leaders, held a vigil, some carrying Israeli flags and others holding candles. Merkel visited the synagogue in the evening and took part in prayers.

Renate Keller, a 76-year-old attending the vigil with her husband, said the attack in Halle showed that Germany was not doing enough to fight anti-Semitism.

“It scares me that after the Holocaust some people have learned nothing from our history, which still weighs on us today,” she said. “People like the attacker have probably never met a Jew in their lives. They are just blinded by hatred.”

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, warned of the incendiary potential far-right politics.

“It shows that right-wing extremism is not only some kind of political development, but that it is highly dangerous and exactly the kind of danger that we have always warned against.”

mtpi

(Reporting by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Belarus reburies over 1,200 Jews unearthed in Nazi-era mass grave

People attend a ceremony to rebury the remains of Jews killed by Nazis in a local ghetto during World War Two, which were recently found at a construction site in a residential area, in the city of Brest, Belarus May 22, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

BREST, Belarus (Reuters) – Belarus on Wednesday buried more than 1,200 Jewish Holocaust victims whose remains were unearthed this year after builders stumbled across a Nazi-era mass grave beneath a construction site in a residential area.

Soldiers were called into the city center of Brest on Belarus’ western border with Poland where they exhumed the bones of 1,214 people killed during the Nazi occupation at the site of what served as a Jewish ghetto from 1941-42.

Their remains were buried on Wednesday in 120 blue caskets embossed with the star of David that were laid side-by-side and two-deep in a giant grave in a city cemetery to the north of Brest at a ceremony led by a local Jewish rabbi.

The funeral ceremony, which also featured a gun salute by Belarusian soldiers, was attended by around 300 people including Israel’s ambassador in Belarus and Jewish community members.

Attendees, some of whom closed their eyes in prayer, took turns to toss earth onto the caskets before the pit was filled in.

“The soul goes up to heaven through this process, so it was very important for the Jewish community that it was all done with Jewish custom,” said Israel’s ambassador in Belarus, Alon Shoham.

Nazi Germany occupied Belarus, then part of the Soviet Union, during World War Two. Tens of thousands of its Jews were killed by the Nazis. Brest was part of Poland before the war.

The mass grave was uncovered by chance in January as builders were laying the foundations for an elite housing development, prompting an operation to exhume their remains.

Some of the skulls they found bore bullet holes, suggesting victims had been executed by a shot to the back of the head. Soldiers also found personal effects such as leather shoes that had not rotted.

“I have mixed feelings,” Jewish community member Regina Simonenko said after the funeral. She said she had been shaken by the sheer horror of the events, but that it was important that they had been remembered.

“If we don’t remember, then things like this can happen again.”

(Reporting by Reuters TV; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Gareth Jones)

Holocaust survivor meets with California teens involved in Nazi salute photos

Auschwitz survivor Eva Schloss, stepsister of Holocaust diarist Anne Frank, talks to the media at Newport Harbor High School after speaking with a group of students seen in viral online photos giving Nazi salutes over a swastika made of red cups that sparked outrage in Newport Beach, California, U.S., March 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Steve Gorman

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (Reuters) – An Auschwitz survivor and stepsister of Holocaust diarist Anne Frank met on Thursday with some of the California high school students who posed in social media photos giving Nazi salutes over a swastika made of red cups used in a drinking game.

The anti-Semitic images, one with the caption “master race” – a reference to the Nazi belief in ethnic purity – went viral after being posted to Snapchat on Saturday, fueling concerns about a recent surge in incidents of hate speech in public schools nationwide.

Eva Schloss, 89, a peace activist who has chronicled her Holocaust experiences in several books, visited privately for more than hour at Newport Harbor High School with about 10 of the teens involved, along with their parents, student leaders, faculty members and a local rabbi who helped organize the meeting.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Schloss said the students described the Nazi salute incident as “a joke,” and she was surprised when they professed not to have fully understood the meaning and consequences of their behavior.

“It did show that education, obviously, is still very, very inadequate,” said Schloss, a London resident who was in California this week on a U.S. speaking tour. She said the students expressed sincere remorse for what happened on Saturday.

“I was 16 when I came out of Auschwitz,” Schloss said she told the students. “I was their age when I realized my life was completely shattered.”

The photos were taken at a party attended by students from several high schools serving a cluster of predominantly white, largely affluent Orange County communities. The images included teens with arms raised in a Nazi salute and students crowded around the cups arranged in the shape of a swastika.

School officials said they have interviewed more than two dozen students and are weighing possible disciplinary action.

LIVES INTERTWINED

The early life of Schloss, a native Austrian, closely parallels that of her German-born stepsister, Anne Frank. Both families moved to Amsterdam to escape anti-Jewish Nazi persecution in their homelands.

The two girls lived near each other and were friends before Germany’s Dutch occupation, forcing both families into hiding. Frank’s personal journal about her family’s ordeal was posthumously published in 1947 as “The Diary of a Young Girl.”

Frank died at age 15 at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany in early 1945.

Like Frank’s family, Schloss was captured by the Nazis in 1944 in Amsterdam and was sent to Auschwitz, where her brother and father died. Schloss and her mother were liberated by the Soviet army, and her mother married Frank’s father, Otto, in 1953.

Newport Beach Rabbi Reuven Mintz, who helped organize the students’ meeting with Schloss, said the controversy should be a “wake-up call” to a rising tide of anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which tracks acts of racism, says the number of anti-Semitic incidents reported at U.S. public schools jumped 94 percent from 2016 to 2017, the latest year such figures are available.

One factor appears to be wide-scale human migration stirred by war, political upheaval and environmental degradation, which in turn has fed a global rise in xenophobia and discriminatory politics that is “becoming mainstreamed in much of the Western world,” said regional ADL director Peter Levi.

“High school kids are not immune from that,” he said.

Another factor, he said, is the spread of extremist ideology by way of social media and the Internet, “and everyone has access to that in his pockets.”

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Newport Beach, California; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; editing by Darren Schuettler and Lisa Shumaker)

Palestinian leader Abbas offers apology for remarks on Jews

FILE PHOTO - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas heads a Palestinian cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah July 28, 2013. REUTERS/Issam Rimawi/Pool/File Photo

By Stephen Farrell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday offered an apology after he was accused of anti-Semitism for suggesting that historic persecution of European Jews had been caused by their conduct, not by their religion.

Abbas condemned anti-Semitism and called the Holocaust the “most heinous crime in history” in a statement issued by his office in Ramallah after a four-day meeting of the Palestinian National Council (PNC), at which he had made the remarks.

“If people were offended by my statement in front of the PNC, especially people of the Jewish faith, I apologize to them,” Abbas said in the statement.

“I would like to assure everyone that it was not my intention to do so, and to reiterate my full respect for the Jewish faith, as well as other monotheistic faiths.”

Abbas, 82, was excoriated by Israeli and Jewish leaders and diplomats who accused him of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial for his remarks on Monday during his opening speech to the PNC, the de facto parliament of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

He said that Jews living in Europe had suffered massacres “every 10 to 15 years in some country since the 11th century and until the Holocaust”.

Citing books written by various authors, Abbas said: “They say hatred against Jews was not because of their religion, it was because of their social profession. So the Jewish issue that had spread against the Jews across Europe was not because of their religion, it was because of usury and banks.”

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman swiftly rejected Abbas’ apology. He wrote on Twitter: “Abu Mazen is a wretched Holocaust denier, who wrote a doctorate of Holocaust denial and later also published a book on Holocaust denial. That is how he should be treated. His apologies are not accepted.”

Reacting to the speech, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday accused Abbas of grave anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper of the U.S.-based Jewish human rights organization the Simon Wiesenthal Center said Abbas’ words were those of “a classic anti-Semite”.

U.N. Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov called Abbas’ comments “deeply disturbing”.

PREVIOUS COMMENTS

A veteran member of Fatah, the PLO’s dominant faction, Abbas served for decades as a loyal deputy of his predecessor, Yasser Arafat. He assumed the leadership of Fatah, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority after Arafat died in 2004, and was re-elected as chairman of the PLO’s Executive Committee on Friday.

In 1982 Abbas obtained a doctorate in history at the Moscow Institute of Orientalism in the then-Soviet Union. His dissertation, entitled “The Secret Relationship between Nazism and the Zionist Movement” – to which Lieberman referred – drew widespread criticism from Jewish groups.

The following year the Simon Wiesenthal Center released translated quotations from the book, including one excerpt about World War Two in which, according to the center’s translation, Abbas wrote:

“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.”

After Abbas’ speech on Monday, Hier and Cooper said: “The world can now see that see that, for Palestinian Authority President Abbas, nothing has changed in the 45 years since his doctoral dissertation was first published.”

But in his apology on Friday, Abbas said: “I would also like to reiterate our long held condemnation of the Holocaust, as the most heinous crime in history, and express our sympathy with its victims.

“Likewise, we condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms, and confirm our commitment to the two-state solution, and to live side by side in peace and security,” he said, referring to an eventual resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Britain says Abbas Holocaust remarks ‘deeply concerning’

FILE PHOTO: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas waves in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank May 1, 2018. Picture taken May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain said on Thursday that recent remarks by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on the Holocaust were “deeply concerning” and unhelpful to peace in the region.

Israel has accused Abbas of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial after the Palestinian leader suggested in a speech that historic persecution of European Jews had been caused by their conduct.

“Palestinian President Abbas’s comments at the Palestinian National Congress were deeply concerning. Any attempt to justify or explain away any element of the Holocaust is unacceptable,” Britain’s Middle-East minister Alistair Burt said in a statement.

“President Abbas has shown a commitment to non-violence and a two-state solution. But his recent rhetoric does not serve the interests of the Palestinian people and is deeply unhelpful to the cause of peace.”

(Reporting by William James, editing by Estelle Shirbon)