To anyone who has followed Mahmoud Abbas’s career with any care, his recent rantings about Zionist colonialism and Jewish responsibility for the Holocaust will have come as no surprise. What was surprising, however, was the reaction: the New York Times called for him to step down; the Jewish pro-Palestinian group J Street condemned his words in no uncertain terms; and the UN Security Council came close to issuing a rebuke of its own. Abbas responded to this unexpected uproar with an apology, albeit a mealy-mouthed one. Liel Leibovitz, commenting on the incident, devises a “thought experiment”:
If Abbas is obviously and easily pressured by the disapproval of those institutions he sees as his natural allies—the press, progressive Jews, and that super gang of friends in the Security Council—what do you suppose might’ve happened if said institutions . . . bothered to express a touch of discontent a bit earlier? . . .
Imagine, for example, that the same liberal-minded cats had raised a righteous racket in September of 2015, when Abbas, waxing poetic, said that the Temple Mount and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher—both in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital—are exclusively the property of the Palestinians, warned Jews not to desecrate these holy sites “with their filthy feet,” and promised his listeners that “every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem is pure, every shahid [martyr] will reach paradise, and every injured person will be rewarded by God.” Imagine a Times editorial huffing that religious intolerance coupled with clear and direct incitement to violence is reprehensible. Imagine the United Nations calling a meeting to consider a rebuke. Instead, Abbas’s delegates were allowed to fly their flag on Second Avenue a few days later, and the Times editorial board remained silent. Similar anecdotes abound. . . .
Those of us who’ve been reporting on the Palestinian president’s inexcusable bigotry for a while now have abandoned all hope that our deep-seated concerns will be shared by anyone in any position of prominence in the press, the UN, or other bastions of influence favored by progressives. Which is why the current consternation in the Times and elsewhere feels a little bit like a sad joke. Watching Abbas apologize so quickly makes one wonder what might’ve happened had the self-proclaimed champions of peace and human rights bothered to speak up against the petty tyrant from Ramallah much sooner.
Abbas’s vile words last week were hardly his first or his vilest, and the time for him to step down as Palestinian leader was long ago. An unbiased press, an international community committed to real reconciliation, a Jewish left less furiously hateful of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and more mistrustful of a long-time, unreconstructed Holocaust denier and champion of violence and terrorism might’ve done a lot of good for Israelis and Palestinians alike.