September 27, 2023 Special Dispatch No. 10810

Palestinian Authority, PLO, And Fatah In Blistering Attack On Palestinian Intellectuals Who Condemned President Abbas's Antisemitic Statements

September 27, 2023
Palestinians | Special Dispatch No. 10810

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas's statements at the August 24, 2023 Fatah Revolutionary Council session, translated by MEMRI and widely condemned by governments worldwide and covered internationally by media (view his statements on MEMRI TV here), were fully endorsed and defended by PA officials, who saw them as well-grounded "historic fact."[1]

In an unusual condemnation of Abbas's statements, over 200 Palestinian intellectuals, academics, and politicians signed an open letter stating that they "adamantly reject any attempt to diminish, misrepresent, or justify antisemitism, Nazi crimes against humanity, or historical revisionism vis-a-vis the Holocaust," and that such "ignorant and antisemitic narratives" do damage to the Palestinian people. One signatory even wrote an article, published by the London-based Al-Arabi Al-Jadid newspaper, criticizing Abbas's linking of the Holocaust to the Palestinian cause and arguing that 14 million Palestinians would pay for his mistake in doing so.

It should be noted that the open letter was deliberately not published on the official Palestinian press or official Palestinian news outlets. Furthermore, after it caused a stir in the global and Arab media,[2] the PA launched a smear campaign against the signatories. PLO, Fatah, and PA officials accused them of conspiring against and betraying the Palestinians by signing a "shameful announcement" that they said was in line with the Zionist narrative and damaged the Palestinian narrative as well as the Palestinian leadership and its head Mahmoud Abbas. Several of the officials also argued that the signatories represented neither Palestinian intellectuals and thinkers nor the Palestinian struggle. The attack on the letter and its signatories was also expressed in many articles published in PA newspapers.

The smear campaign itself sparked criticism. The Palestinian newspapers published articles condemning the tyranny of the Palestinian leaders and their intolerance of views different from their own. One writer, who criticized the denigration of important intellectuals who are "sources of academic and intellectual authority" and the accusations that they were acting "in service of hostile agendas," stated that this shows that the Palestinians had reached a new low. Another explained that the smear campaign had precipitated "a serious deterioration in our main battle" – that is, the fight against Israel. He added that an "escape into history" would not help the Palestinians and could harm their cause.

This report presents the letter, the smear campaign against its signatories, and the criticism of the campaign by some Palestinians.

Palestinian Intellectuals' Open Letter Condemns Palestinian Authority President Abbas's Statements About The Holocaust – And Any Attempt To "Diminish, Misrepresent, Or Justify" It

An open letter in Arabic and English, published September 10, 2023 and signed by over 200 Palestinian intellectuals, politicians, academics, thinkers, and activists, condemned "unequivocally" the statements about the Holocaust by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, calling them "ignorant and antisemitic narratives."

The letter stressed that the Nazis' mass extermination of the Jewish people was the result of antisemitism and racism and rejected "any attempt to diminish, misrepresent, or justify antisemitism, Nazi crimes against humanity, or historical revisionism vis-a-vis the Holocaust."

It stated in full:

"We the undersigned, Palestinian academics, writers, artists, activists, and people of all walks of life, unequivocally condemn the morally and politically reprehensible comments made by President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas about the Holocaust. Rooted in a racial theory widespread in European culture and science at the time, the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people was born of antisemitism, fascism, and racism. We adamantly reject any attempt to diminish, misrepresent, or justify antisemitism, Nazi crimes against humanity, or historical revisionism vis-a-vis the Holocaust.

"The Palestinian people are sufficiently burdened by Israeli settler colonialism, dispossession, occupation, and oppression without having to bear the negative effect of such ignorant and profoundly antisemitic narratives perpetuated by those who claim to speak in our name. We are also burdened by the PA’s increasingly authoritarian and draconian rule, which disproportionately impacts those living under occupation. Having held onto power nearly a decade and a half after his presidential mandate expired in 2009, supported by Western and pro-Israel forces seeking to perpetuate Israeli apartheid, Abbas and his political entourage have forfeited any claim to represent the Palestinian people and our struggle for justice, freedom, and equality, a struggle that stands against all forms of systemic racism and oppression."[3]

Among the letter's signatories were former PA officials such as Yasser Abd Rabbo, who was PA information minister and PLO Executive Committee secretary under Yasser Arafat; Leila Shahid, who was Palestinian Ambassador to Paris and the European Union; U.S. Member of Congress Rashida Tlaib; and Palestinian-American historian Rashid Al-Khalidi and prominent academic Yezid Sayigh, who on the Palestinian negotiating team for the 1994 Gaza-Jericho Agreement signed between Israel and the PLO and an advisor to the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid peace process in the early 1990s. Other signatories included former Israeli Knesset member Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas, as well as academics in Israel such as Asad Ghanem and Bashir Bashir. 

The letter

On X (formerly Twitter), Palestinian-American jurist Noura Erekat, a signatory, posted the letter and wrote: "It's a shame we have to put out this statement at all."[4] Palestinian businessman Sam Bahour, another signatory, called Abbas's statements inappropriate and said that Abbas "doesn't legitimately represent us." He added: "It's not his role to give history lessons."[5]

Ibrahim Fraihat, Palestinian Researcher: The Price Of Abbas's Claims "Will Be Paid By 14 Million Palestinians – And The Palestinian National Enterprise"

In an article published September 20, 2023 in the London-based Al-Arabi Al-Jadid daily, Palestinian researcher Ibrahim Fraihat, who signed the letter, wrote:

"I am not among the academics and intellectuals who drew up the letter condemning the statements by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas about the Holocaust; neither am I the one who organized the campaign and called for signing the letter, which was sent to me. I signed it for one important reason: that any creation of a link between the Palestinian issue and the Holocaust is null and void in content and in form, and must be clearly condemned. This is because the Holocaust is a crime carried out by the Europeans, for which they must apologize, and the Palestinians have no connection to it, while the Palestinian issue draws its righteousness from the 1948 Nakba, carried out by the Zionists on the land of historic Palestine...

"Linking the two issues, as Mahmoud Abbas did, complicates the Palestinian narrative with a dispute about the crime, the mass extermination, and the Nazi and Fascist racist sentiment. Therefore, discussing these two issues at the same time is null and void in principle, and must be condemned...

"Unfortunately, President Mahmoud Abbas is today creating just such a connection [between the Holocaust and the Palestinian cause], thus serving the Zionist propaganda...

"The Palestinian president had no need to interfere in these issues because they are in in the realm of expertise of historians, and if they make a mistake, it is only they who bear [the responsibility]. But when the president, who represents the Palestinians wherever they may be, makes a mistake... the price of this mistake will be paid by 14 million Palestinians and by the Palestinian national enterprise. Abbas's statements on the Jews during the Nazi era were not appropriate, neither in their timing nor in their place, at the Fatah Revolutionary Council..."[6]

PLO, Fatah, And The PA Attack The Open Letter And Its Signatories: It Is "A Shameful Announcement" And A Conspiracy That Does Not Represent The Palestinians And Serves The Zionist Narrative

The Palestinian intellectuals' open letter was roundly condemned by the PLO, Fatah, and PA officials as a "shameful announcement." They called it an example of moral degradation that lines up with the Zionist narrative while damaging the Palestinian narrative and the Palestinian leadership, headed by Abbas. They added that its signatories represent neither the Palestinian intellectuals and writers nor the Palestinian struggle, that the signatories are not part of the Palestinian elite, and that the whole thing is a conspiracy and an act of treason.

For example, the PLO's Palestinian National Council published an announcement stating: "While our Palestinian people are suffering the cruel war against our Palestinian cities that is being waged by the Israeli extreme right, a group [of people] purporting to be Palestinian intellectuals, writers, and academics, who live in Europe and the U.S., have overreached in moral degradation and adopted the lies of the Israeli media and its false narrative against the president of the state of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, with the aim of smearing the head of the legitimate Palestinian government... [These people] became part of the conspiracy against the Palestinian cause, while exploiting quotes mentioned by the president and their link to antisemitism..."

The announcement went on to condemn "the political and ideological terrorism" against the Palestinian people, and noted that the Palestinian leadership and President Abbas had on many occasions condemned the Holocaust and antisemitism.[7]

Fatah's Central Committee also published an announcement attacking the letter and signatories. It called the letter "a deterioration and an espousal of the Zionist narrative" and stressed adherence to a just discourse that promotes Abbas and calls on the Palestinian people to "defend the continuity of its legitimate human struggle in the face of the oppression and the plunderers of history." Also in the announcement, it called for "defending the just Palestinian historical narrative and fighting against all the discordant, misleading, and distorting voices..."[8]

Fatah's Commission for Information, Culture and Ideological Mobilization stated: "With the content of their defamatory declaration, the signatories to the 'shameful announcement' aligned themselves with the Zionist narrative and granted charters to the enemies of our Palestinian people." Fatah went on to call on the Palestinian people in the homeland and the diaspora to "vomit forth from our midst this group that conspires [against us], and to ignore these letters that reflect the conspiratorial role of their authors and signatories."[9]

Mahmoud Al-Habbash, the PA's head shari'a judge and presidential advisor for religious affairs and relations with Muslim countries, said: "The racist Israeli and Zionist propaganda machine is not stopping its desperate and repeated attempts to harm President Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian people, and its just struggle against the Israeli occupation and colonialism... The signatories of the 'shameful announcement' have girded their loins and joined the Israeli-Zionist campaign against the president by signing a petition which is nothing less than [part of] the legacy of the traitor Abu Rughal..."[10]

The PA newspapers also published articles condemning the open letter. For example, the September 13, 2023 editorial of the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida attacked the signatories "who not only lined up with the Israeli-Western incitement offensive against the speech of President Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas]... but also lent it approval and credibility..." It added: "What is worst of all in this context is that they are inciting not just against President Abu Mazen but also against the Palestinian narrative..."[11]

Palestinian Writers Speak Out Against The Attack On The Letter's Signatories: It Is Permissible To Criticize Even The President's Statements

At the same time, the Palestinian press also published several articles criticizing the Palestinian establishment's smear campaign against the signatories to the letter against Abbas.

Palestinian Journalist: The Signatories Are Entitled To Criticize Abbas's Statements; The Attack On Them Show That We Have Reached A New Low

In his September 19 column in the Al-Ayyam daily, Palestinian writer Muhannad Abd Al-Hamid pointed out the importance of the critical and independent role played by the Palestinian intellectuals in the past in conveying knowledge and counsel to the political echelons, and even in overseeing them when necessary. He argued that today, this role no longer existed. Speaking out against the smearing of the intellectuals who had signed the open letter, saying that several of the signatories were vitally important sources of intellectual authority, he stated that this smearing shows that the Palestinians had reached a new low. While he stated that Abbas's remarks could not be considered antisemitism and Holocaust denial, he called for a thorough examination of the sources on which had based his remarks and for in-depth study of the Holocaust and of antisemitism.

He wrote: "...For years, we have been witnessing [in the Palestinian arena] the separation of the independent intellectual echelon from the political echelon, leaving a vacuum and a negative impact on political function, in comparison to the interface that once existed between them and that left its imprint on the political echelon and its presence. It is worth returning to that time when the Research Center[12] and Planning Center[13] played an important role in providing knowledge and ideas to the political echelon and in oversight, criticism, and intervention when appropriate.

"The past success was connected to the independence of the intellectual echelon and to its opposition to any [attempt to] transform the intellectuals and thinkers into attachés of the political echelon. The political leadership usually finds it pleasant to hear what it wants to hear from thinkers or intellectuals, and if this is what happens, then the role of the intellectual and the thinker as opposition and critic is done. In this situation, it is very easy for democracy to regress to exclusive rule, far from criteria, regulations, and laws. 

"The problem that recently [emerged] was not the intervention of academics and intellectuals in the speech of President Abu Mazen in principle. [On the contrary,] the problem lies in their [i.e., these intellectuals'] separation and nonintervention in [other] political and democratic issues [such as] education, social security, law, and the rest of the issues that concern Palestinian society both domestically [i.e., in the PA areas] and in the diaspora...

"Many who did not sign the academics' letter agree that President Abu Mazen's speech to the [Fatah] Revolutionary Council paved the way for an attack on him and on the Palestinian people on the part of the government of [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Israeli National Security Minister Itamar] Ben Gvir, the Biden administration, and the European Union. The Jewish issue must be a focus of Palestinian research, as [a topic of] study and in comparative [research]. Why shouldn't this be added to the Palestinian curriculum in universities, schools, and research institutes[?] – [in light of the fact] that the Palestinian people has fallen victim to the victims [of the Holocaust] and [in light of the fact] that the solution to the Palestinian issue [must be] a just one connected to the solution of the Jewish issue – not just a solution that creates an ongoing and worsening Nakba that threatens the existence of the Palestinian people.

"The Jewish issue cannot be tackled in a speech without a thorough examination of the sources on which the president based [his remarks]. We need expert researchers and [research] institutes in order to present the ideas and lessons [learned] and to enrich the knowledge of the Palestinian people with regard to antisemitism and the Holocaust and their consequences, which were the cruelest in history, and regarding all the crimes carried out against other races, religions, and peoples [besides the Jews]. This is because the Palestinian people will not have support and solidarity from the peoples of the world without expressing solidarity and support for all those harmed in the world...

"The academics who signed the open letter have better political positions than what they said in their hasty letter. They are entitled to criticize [Abbas's] speech and to believe that his statements do not reflect the position of the academics and that they harm the Palestinian issue  -- which has  proven [to be true] in light of the reactions [to the speech] and because the occupation government has shifted to political offensive and covering up its crimes. [But] on the other hand, the president's statements cannot be regarded as antisemitism and Holocaust denial...

"The counterattack against the academics' letter, and its denigration as a disgrace, a conspiracy, ignorance, and service to hostile agendas, makes us lament our situation and our reaching of the lowest possible point. It is inconceivable for senior sources of academic and intellectual authority such as Rashid Al-Khalidi, Yezid Sayigh, and those like them, who were and remain among the most important sources of intellectual and political authority, to be referred to in these [derogatory] terms, that violate the ethics of the journalistic profession. We need criticism and direction from the intellectual echelon..."[14]

Former Palestinian Politician: We Can't Deal With The Zionist Narrative With Pointless Escape Into History

Jamal Zakout, who had served as advisor to PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, wrote in his column in the East Jerusalem daily Al-Quds about the "nastiness" of the Palestinian leadership's campaign against the letter's signatories and stated that this attested to the tyranny and hypocrisy of a leadership that is "cut off from reality." Noting that "moral values" reject any crime against anyone, no matter who, and that there must be differentiation between Jews and Zionists, he added that a preoccupation with history, particularly the Holocaust, is not only pointless for the Palestinian cause but even harms it.

He stated: "In recent days, an organized campaign is underway against the position expressed by a group of people in an open letter... Regardless of [any] personal view concerning what is or is not included in the letter, the nastiness of this campaign has descended to a precipitous accusation of treason, and this has prevailed in the internal discourse among the various [Palestinian] groups without [anyone] noticing that it has caused a serious deterioration in our main battle – the battle against Zionism...

"Alongside the tyranny of those who have a stranglehold on our national decision[making], as is manifested in the prioritizing of [their own] personal and group interests, we must not ignore the hypocrisy of [the elements] who surround [the leadership] and their attempts to beautify this failure, to sometimes invent successes that do not exist, or, many times, to settle for leveling accusations against those with a different opinion. This makes the leadership look cut off from reality, [and shows] how badly it needs an idea or advice that can help it...

"This modus operandi of the leadership will lead us nowhere. Moreover, it will be the quagmire that will bury all the achievements of our fighting people for over a century against the racism of Zionism...

"Dealing with the false Zionist-Biblical narrative, and preserving the [Palestinian] national narrative and keeping it alive and steadfast requires [that we] first of all unite and incentivize the energy of our people, today and tomorrow, and not convert it into an escape into history. [Doing that] will not help us today in any way, and it is [even] likely to harm the justness of our cause and our moral values that oppose any human crime against anyone, and differentiate between Jews as Jews and the racist colonialist Zionists – particularly when it is we who are the victims who pay the price of this history, both when it happened and after it happened."[15]


[2] See, for example,, September 11, 2023, and Al-Arab (London), September 14, 2023.


[4], September 10, 2023.

[5], September 13, 2023.

[6] Al-Arab Al-Jadid (London), September 20, 2023

[7], September 12, 2023.

[8], September 13, 2023.

[9], September 12, 2023.

[10] Abu Rughal is a figure from the pre-Islamic era who is a symbol of treachery., September 12, 2023.

[11] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority), September 13, 2023.

[12] The Palestine Research Center was a PLO body established in 1965 to foster national ideological and cultural creativity regarding the Palestinian cause.

[13] The Palestine Planning Center was for research and statistics regarding the Palestinian issue. It was established by the Palestinian National Council in 1968.

[14] Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), September 19, 2023.

[15] Al-Quds (East Jerusalem), September 19, 2023.

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