BERLIN — Police in Berlin have opened a preliminary investigation against Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas over his comments this week that Israel has committed “50 holocausts” against Palestinians.
The comments, made during a press conference in Berlin alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, sparked outrage in Germany, Israel and beyond.
Police on Friday confirmed a report in the German daily Bild that Abbas was being investigated for possible hate speech after receiving a formal criminal complaint. Disparaging the Holocaust is a criminal offense in Germany, but the opening of a preliminary investigation does not automatically imply a full investigation.
The German Foreign Ministry said that Abbas, as a representative of the Palestinian Authority, would enjoy immunity from prosecution because he was visiting the country in an official capacity.
Germany does not recognize the Palestinian Territories as a sovereign state, a position Scholz reaffirmed on Tuesday.
Scholz on Thursday in a phone call with Prime Minister Yair Lapid condemned the inflammatory comments made by Abbas.
Scholz told Lapid that it was important for him to personally emphasize to the prime minister his condemnation of Abbas’s claims.
“Keeping alive the memory of the civilizational rupture of the Shoah is an eternal responsibility of this and all German governments,” Scholz said, according to Berlin’s reading of the conversation.
On Wednesday, Scholz said he was “disgusted” by the comments, after enduring criticism from local media for not immediately responding to Abbas’s comments, which the latter made while the two leaders stood side by side during a press conference in Berlin the night before. Although Scholz seemed pained when Abbas spoke, he did not speak.
During his phone call, Lapid thanked the German leader and said he was speaking as Israel’s prime minister and the son of a Holocaust survivor, according to a statement issued by Lapid’s office.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Abbas was responding to a reporter’s question about the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Munich massacre. Eleven Israeli athletes and a German policeman were killed when members of the Palestinian terror group Black September took hostages in the Olympic Village on September 5, 1972. At the time of the attack, the group was linked to Abbas’s Fatah party.
Asked if, as a Palestinian leader, he planned to apologize to Israel and Germany, Abbas responded by citing accusations of atrocities committed by Israel since 1947.
“If we want to review the past, go ahead,” Abbas, who spoke Arabic, told reporters.
“I have 50 massacres that Israel committed in 50 Palestinian villages… 50 massacres, 50 massacres, 50 holocausts,” he said, speaking the last word in English.
Scholz was widely criticized for not speaking out. Der Spiegel, Welt, Junge Freiheit and other media outlets carried headlines highlighting his silence during the press conference. BILD expressed its dismay that “there was not a word of dissent in the face of the worst relativization of the Holocaust that a head of government has ever uttered in the chancellor’s office.”
Bundestag Opposition Leader Friedrich Merz, leader of Germany’s powerful Christian Democratic Party, said Scholz “should have contradicted the Palestinian president in no uncertain terms and asked him to leave the house.”
However, most of the backlash was directed at Abbas for refusing to apologize for the Munich massacre and for what critics said was trivializing the Holocaust.
Germany’s ambassador to Israel, Steffen Seibert, called Abbas’s comments “wrong and unacceptable.”
Following the uproar, Abbas released a statement carried by the Palestinian Authority’s official WAFA news agency, retracting his comments and stating that “the Holocaust is the most heinous crime in modern human history.”
A spokesman for Scholz told reporters that his office had summoned the head of the Palestinian mission in Berlin on Wednesday.
The foreign and security policy adviser to the foreign minister conveyed that Scholz expects the Palestinian Authority president to “acknowledge the uniqueness of the Holocaust without any qualification,” Steffen Hebestreit said. “Your mistake of his yesterday casts a dark shadow over Germany’s relations with the Palestinian Authority.”