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January 18, 2018 1:52 pm

Media Whitewashes Abbas’ Revisionism and Rejectionism

avatar by Pesach Benson

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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the Palestinian Central Council in Ramallah, Jan. 14, 2018. Reuters / Mohamad Torokman.

Mahmoud Abbas’ two-hour address to the central committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization was the diplomatic equivalent of giving the middle finger to Israel, the US and peace prospects.

The speech was expected to articulate the Palestinian leadership’s response to Trump’s Jerusalem declaration, as well as his threats to cut some aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA).

But given how long Abbas’ talk went, it must have been a challenge for reporters to focus on sorting out the “news” from the “rambling.” Indeed, the PA president rejected US mediation, blamed Israel for the “death” of the Oslo Accords, and dropped tidbits such as claiming that someone offered the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Dis to become the capital of a Palestinian state. (Abbas didn’t say who made the offer.)

But there was a bigger picture that the mainstream media slept through: What most journalists would consider boring, long-winded digressions were actually part of a bigger pattern of historical revisionism, and Palestinian rejection of any place for Jews in the Middle East.

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The speech

The Ramallah audience of PLO cadres, VIPs and the foreign press was regaled with Abbas’ theories of how Israel was founded — not by Jews — but by European “colonialists,” with plans going as far back as Oliver Cromwell in 1653. Abbas accused Israel of sending drugs to Palestinian kids. He also ridiculed US Ambassador Nikki Haley’s high heels.

Abbas also fabricated a quote to claim that Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, sought to exterminate Palestinians:

We must wipe out the Palestinians from Palestine so that Palestine will be a land without a people for a people without a land.

Abbas also claimed, among other things, that the Jews of Europe chose to remain and die at the hands of the Nazis, that Jews from Iraq and Yemen were brought to Israel against their will, and that Israel was formed as “a colonial project that has nothing to do with Judaism” — merely to safeguard European interests.

The PA chief also hurled an epithet at President Donald Trump, saying in Arabic, “Yekhreb beitak,” which means “May God destroy your home.” A Palestinian media professional explained to me that home refers not just to the physical house, but the household — its people and possessions. It’s a term used when two people are in a dispute, and although Arabs may use the term somewhat casually among themselves, it’s not a line one would use in a diplomatic setting. That would explain why The Associated Press called it “jarring” language.

It’s not the first time that Abbas has twisted history for his own purposes. His doctoral thesis, written as a student in Moscow, argued that the Nazis killed “only” one million Jews, that the Zionist leaders collaborated with the Nazis, and that Jewish leaders inflated the Holocaust’s death toll to six million for their own advantage.

But the overall thrust of Abbas’ speech was to erase Jewish ties to the Land of Israel.

The coverage

Too many media reports whitewashed Abbas’ remarks. Perhaps editors didn’t attach enough importance to the speech to give their correspondents a longer word count, which might account for the short, sanitized reports by ReutersBBC NewsCNN and Sky News.

Other news services touched on Abbas’ rant, but didn’t delve into the significance, such as AFPThe IndependentIrish Times and the Financial Times.

While The New York Times gave a sense of the PA chairman’s verbosity, the paper unfortunately didn’t fact-check Abbas, giving a pass to false quotes, among other things:

Testing his audience’s attention, Mr. Abbas also gave a lengthy history lecture reaching back to the 17th century, saying that Oliver Cromwell had first proposed shipping European Jews to the Holy Land, before tracing the beginning of Zionism to what he called the 19th-century journalist and activist Theodor Herzl’s efforts to “wipe out Palestinians from Palestine.”

“This is a colonial enterprise that has nothing to do with Jewishness,” Mr. Abbas said. “The Jews were used as a tool under the concept of the promised land — call it whatever you want. Everything has been made up.”

Indeed, Abbas has made everything up.

Can you imagine the headlines if an Israeli head of state denied the existence of the Palestinian people? Or fabricated quotes?

While I didn’t see any news coverage of the speech in The Guardian, an Ian Black commentary fretted over how the speech would play into the hands of right-wing Israelis. And if I didn’t know any better, I’d say that the Irish Independent took Associated Press reports one and two, and scrubbed them.

Credit the Daily Telegraph and The Washington Post for acknowledging Abbas being Abbas and getting fresh quotes from analysts to provide some meaning.

Palestinians may see Abbas as defiantly throwing down the gauntlet, while many Israelis see Abbas on the verge of imploding.

If there’s going to be peace, we need the press to step up and enlighten us on what Mahmoud Abbas really stands for.

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