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Paris revokes honorary medal from Abbas following antisemitic remarks

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has stripped Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas of the French capital’s highest honor after he made remarks about the Holocaust that repeated antisemitic tropes, her office said Friday.

Abbas could no longer hold the Grand Vermeil medal awarded to him in 2015 after he “justified the extermination of the Jews of Europe” in World War II, Hidalgo’s office told AFP.

“The comments you made are contrary to our universal values and the historical truth of the Shoah,” Hidalgo said in a letter to Abbas sent on Thursday. “You can therefore no longer hold this distinction.”

In a recent speech, Abbas repeated the unfounded claim that Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler had Jews slaughtered because of their “social role” as moneylenders, saying it was “not true” that “Hitler killed the Jews because they were Jews.”

While Abbas made the remarks during a speech late last month before senior members of his Fatah party in Ramallah, a video of the event surfaced this week.

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“You (…) justified the extermination of the Jews of Europe during World War II with a clear desire to deny the genocide,” Hidalgo said in the letter.

“I vehemently condemn your remarks, no cause can justify revisionism and negationism,” she added.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas looking on as he receives Palestinian athletes in Ramallah in the West Bank on August 4, 2023. (Wissam KHALIFA/PPO/AFP)

The text of the letter was published on X, formerly known as Twitter, by Yonathan Arfi, president of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), an umbrella organization representing French Jews.

“This important decision honors Paris and the city’s ongoing commitment against anti-Semitism,” he wrote, following Hidalgo’s announcement.

The UK foreign ministry also condemned the Palestinian Authority president’s remarks, saying that “the UK stands firmly against all attempts to distort the Holocaust. Such statements do not advance efforts towards reconciliation.”

Those condemnations followed Thursday’s statements by the United State and European Union.

US Special Envoy to Combat Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt called Abbas’s remarks “hateful” and “antisemitic.”

“The speech maligned the Jewish people, distorted the Holocaust and misrepresented the tragic exodus of Jews from Arab countries,” Lipstadt wrote on X.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the PA leader’s remarks “undermine prospects for a secure and peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians” in addition to being “hateful and antisemitic.”

US Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Ellen Germain wrote on X that Abbas’s comments “are horrifying examples of Holocaust distortion and efforts to rewrite the history of WWII and the Holocaust. We must call out such lies and distortions whenever we see or hear them. The truth matters.”

Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas (L) is welcomed by Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo prior to a ceremony marking the International Day of Peace on September 21, 2015 at City Hall, Paris, France. (DOMINIQUE FAGET / AFP)

“Such historical distortions are inflammatory, deeply offensive, can only serve to exacerbate tensions in the region and serve no one’s interests,” the EU statement continued. “They play into the hands of those who do not want a two-state solution, which President Abbas has repeatedly advocated for.

“Moreover, they trivialize Holocaust [sic] and thereby fuel anti-Semitism and are an insult to the millions of victims of the Holocaust and their families.”

In his speech, Abbas also outlined the baseless theory that Ashkenazi Jews are not descended from ancient Israelites but from an ancient Turkish people known as the Khazars, who according to a discredited theory converted to Judaism en masse.

“The truth that we should clarify to the world is that European Jews are not Semites,” Abbas said, according to a translation of his remarks by the Middle East Media Research Institute. “They have nothing to do with Semitism.”

“So when we hear them talk about Semitism and antisemitism, the Ashkenazi Jews, at least, are not Semites,” he added.

Abbas has previously claimed publicly that Ashkenazi Jews are the descendants of Khazars, including in a 2018 speech in which he also charged that Jews’ “social behavior” caused the Holocaust.

Abbas has a history of making antisemitic claims and incendiary comments about the Holocaust, including saying in May that Israel “lies like” chief Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Last year in Germany, he accused Israel of perpetrating “50 holocausts” at a press conference alongside Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Israel, Germany and the US reacted to the statement with shock and outrage.

“They say that Hitler killed the Jews because they were Jews and that Europe hated the Jews because they were Jews. Not true. It was clearly explained that [the Europeans] fought [the Jews] because of their social role, and not their religion,” Abbas said in August. “Several authors wrote about this. Even Karl Marx said this was not true. He said that the enmity was not directed at Judaism as a religion but at Judaism for its social role.”

“The [Europeans] fought against these people because of their role in society, which had to do with usury, money and so on and so forth,” he said.

Lazar Berman and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.