A number of recent or current international leaders hold earned doctorates, in fields such as law (the president of Greece), economics (the prime minister of India), or chemistry (both the chancellor of Germany and the prime minister of Belgium).
But, irony of ironies, the only world leader who holds a Ph.D. in history has turned out to be one of the worst historians in the world: Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. This week the Palestinian president demonstrated yet again why he deserves that label.
Addressing the Palestinian General Council on Jan. 14, Abbas said the State of Israel “is a colonial enterprise that has nothing to do with Jewishness. The Jews were used as a tool under the concept of the promised land — call it whatever you want. Everything has been made up.”
Abbas has a long record of denying Jewish history in the Holy Land. “They claim that 2,000 years ago they had a temple; I challenge the claim that this is so,” he said in August 2000, referring to it as “the alleged Temple” (August 2012). He claimed the “never-ending digging” in Jerusalem is a conspiracy by Zionist archaeologists to “vindicate the Israeli narrative [but] they have failed miserably” (February 2012). Israelis are captives of “delusional myths,” he said, and they are trying “to change Jerusalem’s landscape in every detail [in order to] invent a history” (January 2014).
If the Jews weren’t there, who were? According to Abbas, “the Palestinians have existed before Abraham” (March 2016), and their achievements include “the invention of the Canaanite-Palestinian alphabet more than 6,000 years ago” (May 2016). Remarkable accomplishments indeed, considering that the very word “Palestine” was invented by the Romans only in the first century CE, and there were no expressions of distinctly Palestinian Arab nationalism until the 20th century CE.
Middle East history is not Abbas’ only victim. In his 1983 Ph.D. dissertation-turned-book, titled “The Other Side: The Secret Relations Between Nazism and the Leadership of the Zionist Movement,” Abbas asserted that David Ben-Gurion and other Zionist leaders “collaborated with Hitler” and wanted the Nazis to kill Jews, because “having more victims meant greater rights and stronger privilege to join the negotiating table for dividing the spoils of war once it was over.”
The “real” number of Jews murdered by the Nazis was “much lower” than 6 million and might well have been “below 1 million,” Abbas wrote. “Many scholars have debated the figure of 6 million and reached stunning conclusions — fixing the number of Jewish victims at only a few hundred thousand.”
Asked about his Holocaust writings in a January 2013 interview with a Lebanese television station, Abbas replied: “I challenge anyone to deny the relationship between Zionism and Nazism before World War II.” He added that he has “70 more books that I still haven’t published” that he says would prove his claims.
Nor is Abbas above misrepresenting the words of an American president. When challenged in 2014 over his refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, Abbas told The New York Times that his position was supported by none other than Harry S. Truman. How so? Abbas pulled out a reproduction of Truman’s statement, in 1948, recognizing the newborn State of Israel.
The Palestinian leader pointed triumphantly to the fact that the words “Jewish state” were crossed out and replaced by “State of Israel.”
The real reason for that name change had nothing to do with Truman’s opinion as to whether Israel should be a Jewish state.
Israel’s representatives in Washington drafted their request for U.S. recognition before the state was proclaimed and its name was known. They learned the new country’s name — via shortwave radio — just moments before handing their request to the president. They corrected it by hand to save time.
Not that any of this is a secret; it appears in many mainstream history texts, but not the sort of books that apparently interest Mahmoud Abbas.
How can one explain why an international statesman with a Ph.D. in history would consistently resort to such gross distortions of the historical record?
A skeptic might point to the quality of his education. Abbas earned a law degree at the University of Damascus, which is controlled by a regime with precious little regard for laws or facts.
Similarly, he received his Ph.D. from the Soviet-controlled Oriental College in Moscow, an institution whose regard for history may be measured by the fact that it approved Abbas’ Holocaust-denying dissertation.
But that would be letting Abbas off too easy. It has been four decades since he completed his dissertation. That’s more than enough time to read some genuine history books and become acquainted with basic historical facts. A more plausible explanation for his chicanery is that Abbas is well acquainted with the facts — but cynically chooses to disregard all but the ones which he can wield as weapons in his fight against Israel. PJC
Rafael Medoff is the author of 19 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust.