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February 11, 2014 1:50 am

Mahmoud Abbas Flunks History

avatar by Rafael Medoff /

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Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Abba Eban (center) with Israeli PM David Ben-Gurion and U.S. President Harry Truman (1951). Photo: Wiki Commons.

JNS.orgPalestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has reiterated that he won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and he’s claiming support for that position from an unlikely quarter: former U.S. president Harry Truman. But a closer look reveals that Truman’s words are being misrepresented.

In a Feb. 3 interview with the New York Times, Abbas was asked about recognizing Israel as a Jewish state—something both the Israeli government and President Barack Obama have said the Palestinian Authority needs to do. “This is out of the question,” Abbas said. To justify that position, Abbas handed the Times interviewer a packet of documents, the first of which was a statement by Truman from 1948 in which the words “Jewish state” were crossed out and replaced by “State of Israel.”

Someone who didn’t know better might think Abbas had scored a point. But in fact, the document in question does not provide evidence of American opposition to a Jewish state.

Here’s how that cross-out came about:

On May 15, 1948, just before David Ben-Gurion announced the establishment of the State of Israel, Truman decided he would extend U.S. recognition to the state as soon as it was proclaimed. A senior aide to the president, Clark Clifford, telephoned Eliahu Epstein (Elath), who was the state-to-be’s chief representative in Washington. Clifford told Elath to submit a formal request for recognition as soon as possible.

Elath wrote up the request during the minutes before the state was proclaimed. He did not yet know what its name would be. So he typed “the Jewish State.” He gave the document to his assistant, Zvi Zinder, who ran outside to get a taxi to the White House.

Moments after Zinder left, Elath’s secretary rushed in to say she had just heard on their shortwave radio that the state had been declared, and it would be called the State of Israel. Elath sent his secretary after Zinder, and caught up to him at the gates to the White House.

Elath didn’t want to delay recognition by having Zinder return and re-type the letter. So he had instructed his secretary to make the correction by hand. Hence the famous cross-out to which Abbas referred. It was not a political or ideological statement; it was the equivalent of a typographical correction.

But none of this is a secret. Ambassador Elath described it in his book, “The Struggle for Statehood: Washington 1945-1948,” which was published back in 1979, and it has appeared in other books since then. It’s required reading for scholars and diplomats who have a serious interest in America-Israel relations. It’s difficult to believe that Abbas, and the PA aides who helped assemble his packet of clippings, are unfamiliar with these well-known facts.

On the other hand, history has never been Mr. Abbas’s strong suit.

Last year, he told a Lebanese television station that David Ben-Gurion and the Zionist movement collaborated with the Nazis. “I challenge anyone to deny the relationship between Zionism and Nazism before World War II.” He claimed to have authored “70 books” on the topic.

So far, only one of those 70 books has been published. That 1983 book, based on Abbas’s Ph.D. dissertation at Moscow’s Oriental College, argued that fewer than one million Jews were killed by the Nazis—and that those Jews were the victims of a secret partnership that Ben-Gurion and other Zionist leaders formed with the Nazis in order to have a basis for demanding a state.

“Since Zionism was not a fighting partner, it had no escape but to offer up human beings, under any name, to raise the number of victims, which they could then boast of at the moment of accounting,” Abbas wrote. “Having more victims meant greater rights and stronger privilege to join the negotiation table for dividing the spoils of war once it was over.”

The historical record can play an important role in addressing the conflicting claims by Arabs and Israelis about territories, refugees, and other issues. But that record is ill-served when Holocaust history and American history are twisted into political cannon fodder by those who are less interested in the facts than in scoring points against Israel.

Dr. Rafael Medoff is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington, D.C., and coauthor, with Chaim I. Waxman, of the “Historical Dictionary of Zionism.”

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  • Bart A. Charta

    So much wasted ink has been spilled on the topic of trying to make peace with a people that wants to kill you. Instead of Israel trying to be the Yeled Tov Yerushalayim (the goody good boy) of the neighborhood, start targeted assassinations of the heads of the snakes and work down the Fauxlestinian body politic from there (and don’t forget the baby-murderers). Anyone who seeks to harm Jews is an enemy, particularly in the Arab-Muslim world, and should be put on notice that “hunting season” is open 24/7/365, including Shabbes and Kippur. Today’s Fauxlestinians are modern-day Amalekites, who sniped at ancient Israelites’ weakest and most vulnerable, just as those who terrorize Israel’s civilian population do. The Torah is clear about how they were to be dealt with. I vote in favor of death to all of them, no mercy, destroying all they own, have or hold dear. This is not ethnic cleansing and not genocide. It is the logical end game of those who are constantly threatened by those who will not recognize our right to live as they declare they want to live, as a free people in their own homeland. The world will not like us no matter what we do (except if we will commit suicide, in which case everyone will line up to eulogize us), so let’s just do what we need to, so that we can live in peace and quiet – if without peace, then at least without enemies in close proximity constantly trying to bit at our heels.

    I know I am not the only one who feels this way, but PC has so many scared silent that few want to speak the words that must be said.


      I stand by what you have written.
      I too, have written similar articles.

      Time for Israel to wake up. You are in the middle of the worst type of savages.
      do not take prisoners.
      If you catch a killer, kill him. No more talks of releasing murdering bastard savages.

      The Arabs kill and hangf anyone who they do not agree with.


  • When are we going to address the Arab Occupation of Judea?

    • jacob mandelblum

      Salomon :

      It will be addressed the day the GHETTO JEW mentality which, unbelievable as it may sound, still dictates policy to Israel, goes the way of the dinosaurs…

      As long as I live, I’ll never forget the cabinet discussing whether to abort or continue, the ENTEBBE rescue operation as the planes were approaching the non return spot..!!!!

      A better example of rotten GHETTO JEW mentality is hard
      to find, unless you want to speak about the abject “leadership” position on Turkey…
      Am I glad Erdogan is spitting on Nethanyahu’s face..!!!

  • Anshel

    The article is correct — Elath’s recollection of the editorial change is corroborated in Clark Clifford’s book, “Counsel to the President”. It is clear in this book that Truman and Clifford had high regard for Israel as the Jewish State. Abbas, of course, has always shown contempt for history and truth, as his purported doctoral “dissertation” – a rant denying the Shoah – amply demonstrates.

    • jacob mandelblum

      Anshel :

      What else is to expect from the rewritters of History ?

      Aren’t now the “invented people” as Newt Gingrich rightfully pegged them, no less that the inheritors of the peoples the Israelites removed from the Promised Land…????

      Don’t they claim that the Temple never existed at the Temple Mount…???

      Didn’t they excavate at will and dump it away in order to claim there was never a Jewish presence there (and
      as usually, with the “leadership” just allowing it ???
      And doesn’t the the Temple Mount enjoy “de facto” an
      extraterritorial status like any foreign embassy or consulate seat and hasn’t it been OK to all leaderships”..???

      Now tell me
      Whom’s fault it it ???
      The blind man’s or that of who gave him the stick in the first place…????

      Wasn’t ABBAS PhD thesis at Moscow University the negation of the Holocaust…????

      And this is Israel’s “PISS” partner…????????????


  • Betty

    It seems that most journalists and a disappointing number of academics must have skipped history as a subject in their education and are not very interested in practicing the art of verification before committing themselves to extreme fanaticism and hate

  • In Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speeches over recent years, and in some current exchanges with the Palestinian Authority, Israel does not seek recognition of “a” Jewish State. Rather, the Israel government seeks recognition of the legitimacy and permanence of Israel as “the” Jewish State, i.e. as the political expression of the self-determination of the Jewish People in a part of its aboriginal homeland.

    The more than 6 million Jews now living in Israel are over 40% of world Jewry and 75% of that country’s population. Public-opinion polls consistently show that worldwide most Jews self-identify as part of the Jewish People. They see Israel as “the Jewish State.” As in centuries past, Jews generally regard Israel as their aboriginal and spiritual homeland. Most Jews also see Israel as the political expression of their self-determination as a People among the world’s Peoples.

    Thus, Israel as “the” Jewish State is internationally not primarily about the religion of Judaism, but rather mostly about the modern political and legal doctrine of the self-determination of Peoples. This means that, in the diplomatic context, the adjective “Jewish” in the phrase “the Jewish State” largely refers not to the religion of Judaism, but mostly to the Jews as a People; just as there is a Japanese, an Italian and a Greek People.

    For example, the phrase “a Jewish State” does not feature once in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 (1947) recommending the partition of what remained of Mandate Palestine after the 1946 treaty specifically excising the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan. The partition recommendation refers more than thirty times to “the Jewish State” which is juxtaposed to “the Arab State.” This couplet powerfully supports the understanding that the adjective “Jewish” in the phrase “the Jewish State” internationally refers primarily to the Jewish People rather than to the religion of Judaism. Otherwise, the companion reference to that other part of Mandate Palestine would logically have been “the Muslim State” rather than “the Arab State.”

    The centrality of the notion of the Jewish People is also supported by the May 14, 1948 Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, which has more than a dozen references to the Jews, as a People among the world’s Peoples. By contrast, the declaration has just two indirect references that perhaps point to the religion of Judaism.

    In addition to being “the” Jewish State internationally, Israel may also at home be more or less of “a” Jewish State, i.e. a country that chooses to domestically give the religion and values of Judaism a special role in the public space. And to be sure, a hotly debated topic among Jews — both in Israel and abroad — is whether Israel ought to follow the United States in a thoroughgoing observation of the domestic principle of the separation of Church and State.

    Internationally there is no legal norm that requires governments to be secular domestically, i.e. at home to observe something like the USA separation of Church and State. Nor internationally is there a moral or political consensus that there ought to be such a requirement of domestic secularism.

    Not surprisingly, there are many countries like the Islamic Republic of Iran, Greece, and the United Kingdom whose constitutions have a special place for the native religion. Accordingly, the extent to which Israel ought to be domestically more secular or more of “a” Jewish State is a matter of choice for all Israel citizens. They regularly argue all sides of this question, including with Jews in the United States and elsewhere in the Diaspora.
    Though the native religion has a special place in Israel, that country is hardly exceptional in this regard. Such special treatment for the religion of Judaism at home does not detract from Israel’s status as “the” Jewish State internationally, i.e. as the political expression of the self-determination of the Jewish People in a part of its aboriginal homeland.

    Thus, it remains important to carefully distinguish the meaning of “the” Jewish State from that of “a” Jewish State. Fudging this key distinction is important to Mahmoud Abbas who stubbornly adheres to the indefinite article as a way of arguing that the Israel position refers to the religion of Judaism.


    These “Palestinian” leaders deny the fact that Jews were in Israel for thousands of years and more recently deny that the Koitel is ours. They have rewritten history to create a “Palestinian” people who were residents of what is now Jordan and never claimed peoplehood prior to the establishment of a Jewish state.

  • Luigi Rosolin (@LuigiBelmont)

    Mahmoud Abbas is as usual use the dirty tactic that is so well working against Israel.Lies and manipulation of fact are used to slam the Jews, through mag to other is a Palestinian’s tactic and of other too. Always put in the hear of people some dubious through. People not well informed or not interest to search the truth are the majority of the society and lies are not easy see.

  • Abbas needs a crash course in the history of the 2nd World War as to who was on the side of the Nazis and the Allied Forces who fought against them.Mr Abbas can rewrite history but he can’t hide from the truth that the Arabs cooperated with Hitler, that the Grand Mufti moved to Berlin while the Jews of Palestine were part of the British Army and had it’s own Jewish Brigade.

    He wants the World to recognize a Palestinian State but refuses to acknowledge that ISRAEL IS A JEWISH DEMOCRATIC STATE, If he can’t make that simple gesture of Good Will, what’s the point of trying to broker peace ?

  • zadimel

    The re-writing of Jewish-Israeli history by Abbas is typical of Palestinian efforts to deny the historical dimensions and timeline of the Jewish State.Despite the approximate 3000 year presence of the Jewish people in what is now Israel and the disputed Palestinian territory, the Palestinians continue to deny Hebrew,Jewish/Israeli history by destroying archeological evidence as well as refuting their proven historical record.

  • Bernard Ross

    Abbas is completely aware of the historic fact but chooses to lie intentionally. What is astounding is how many jews and Israelis cannot take the hint. everything about abbas and the Faux Palestinians is a web of lies. It is insane to consider any deal based on the performance of this set of liars. No peace is possible for generations to come. Only a cold peace at best and no deal needs to be made for this. A cold peace or a cold war are based on strength rather than peace agreements.

  • Yidvocate

    Indeed historical facts will conclusively establish that there is no Palestinian People; there is no “occupied territories” other than Jewish land occupied by interloper Arabs and a whole host of hot-bed issues. The problem is that the world is not interested in truth but only narratives, fiction and not fact.