Benjamin Netanyahu accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of anti-Semitism after he claimed that past massacres, including the Holocaust, were linked to the “social function” of Jews in the banking sector.
Abbas, 82, made the comments during a wide-ranging speech, which also drew condemnation from the United States and the European Union.
“Once a Holocaust denier, always a Holocaust denier,” the Israeli prime minister said of Abbas on Twitter on Wednesday. “I call upon the international community to condemn the grave antisemitism of Abu Mazen [Abbas’s nickname], which should have long since passed from this world.”
Israel’s foreign ministry accused Abbas of fuelling religious and nationalist hatred against the Jewish people and Israel. Netanyahu’s spokesperson said the comments were “pathetic”.
US officials also criticised the comments. David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, said Abbas had reached a new low, while Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, said: “Peace cannot be built on this kind of foundation.”
The EU’s foreign service also condemned the remarks as unacceptable. The European external action service (EEAS) said in a statement: “Such rhetoric will only play into the hands of those who do not want a two-state solution, which President Abbas has repeatedly advocated.”
The EEAS added: “Antisemitism is not only a threat for Jews but a fundamental menace to our open and liberal societies.”
Abbas, who has faced accusations of antisemitism before, suggested in an address to a meeting of the Palestinian National Council in Ramallah on Monday that Jewish people’s relations with banking and moneylending had led to hostility.
“From the 11th century until the Holocaust that took place in Germany, those Jews – who moved to western and eastern Europe – were subjected to a massacre every 10 to 15 years. But why did this happen? They say: ‘It is because we are Jews,’” he told the hundreds of delegates.
He then cited “three books [written by Jews]” as evidence that “hostility against Jews is not because of their religion, but rather their social function”, saying he meant their “social function related to banks and interest”.
He incorrectly contrasted this with Jews in the Arab world, who he argued had not faced persecution. Incidents of antisemitism in Arab countries, as well as Europe, are well documented.
At one point during his speech, Abbas erroneously said Joseph Stalin was Jewish. He later corrected himself, saying he had meant to refer to Karl Marx.
The US Holocaust Memorial Museum dismissed the claims as “grossly inaccurate and an insidious type of antisemitism”.
“The Nazis believed that Germans were racially superior and that the Jews, deemed inferior, were a threat to the so-called German racial community and had to be eliminated,” the museum said in a statement.
The criticism was echoed by the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas. “We reject any relativisation of the Holocaust,” Maas told Die Welt.
“Germany bears responsibility for the most atrocious crime of human history,” he said, adding that the memory of the Holocaust was a constant reminder to tackle any form of antisemitism.
The row comes as relations between the US and the Palestinian leadership have broken down over the American plan to move its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The relocation, which is due to be completed on 14 May, sparked major protests by Palestinians, who consider East Jerusalem their capital, and led Abbas to cut ties with Trump’s administration.
Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, declined to comment on the criticism.
In March, Abbas labelled Friedman a “son of a dog” during an attack on Trump’s policies while also calling him a “settler” – referring to his support for Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
At the time, Friedman, who is Jewish, said: “His response was to refer to me as son of a dog. Is that antisemitism or political discourse?”
Abbas has been accused of antisemitism in the past, including in 2016 following a speech to the European parliament.
In those apparently unscripted remarks, Abbas claimed: “A number of rabbis in Israel made a clear declaration and asked their government to poison water to kill the Palestinians.” He gave no source for the accusation but said it was part of wider Israeli campaign of incitement against Palestinians.
Netanyahu’s office responded by accusing Abbas of disseminating “a blood libel”.
Abbas’s office later acknowledged that the reports on which his comments had been based had proved to be without foundation.