Despite the smiling images from Sharm el-Sheikh, the fact is that Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, has taken no demonstrable steps to dismantle and disarm the vast Palestinian terror networks, end the incitement or arrest terrorists. And although his rhetoric even after his election has been troublesome (calling for a "big jihad," referring to Israel as the "Zionist enemy," making it clear he will not use force against terrorists, and endorsing the policies of Yasser Arafat), the administration and Congress are falling over themselves to throw vast sums of money his way. President Bush has promised $350 million to Abbas, more than four times that given to Arafat by the Clinton administration.
Just as Abbas' troubling words and lack of anti-terror action have been ignored, so has another distinctly dark part of his pedigree: the undeniable fact that he is a blatant and unrepentant Holocaust denier. In 1984, he wrote "The Other Side: The Secret Relations Between Nazism and the Leadership of the Zionist Movement." In this pseudo-historical account, which was based on his 1982 doctoral dissertation, Abbas contended that Zionist leaders gave the green light to the Nazis to do as it pleased with the Jews as long as immigration to Palestine was allowed.
Moreover, he endorsed the outrageous contention that the Jews intentionally inflated the numbers of those slaughtered in order to engender support for the State of Israel. Citing other historical quackery, Abbas suggested that the number of Jewish victims might have been as few as "only a few hundred thousand." And worse, he embraced the discredited work of Robert Faurisson, who shamelessly insisted that the Nazis did not use gas chambers
It's bad enough that the mainstream press has not taken Abbas to task. But how in the name of the memory of martyred 6 million can one explain that Jewish leaders, Holocaust scholars and advocates have given him an unprecedented pass on so important an issue? It's beyond disappointing -- it's downright offensive and sets a dangerous precedent.
During the weeklong series of ceremonies commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we were admonished never to allow or condone the desecration of memory of the victims through the distortion of the Shoah; we cannot afford to be asleep at the switch.
While we applaud that this message received such broad dissemination, it was hardly a new one for the Jewish world. While we may debate among ourselves every conceivable topic, including life-and-death issues of Israeli security, there always has been at least one issue that cut so deeply into our collective souls that it was not open to debate: Holocaust denial, from whatever source, was a scourge to be swiftly and ruthlessly challenged. When politicians like Jean Marie LePen in France, Jarg Haider in Austria and the late Franjo Tudjman in Croatia spewed their ugly views of Holocaust denial, Jewish organizations immediately sprung into action and spared no mercy in exposing the blasphemes for the anti-Semites they are.
John Roth, a well-known scholar, can certainly attest to how strongly Jews feel on this issue. Roth was not a Holocaust denier. He was, however, deprived of a senior position at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., after he had been exposed as having written offensive articles comparing certain actions of the Israelis with those of the Nazis. This was not only an ugly lie, it also diminished the horror of the Shoah. We were among many who stood up for the victims and survivors, and signed a petition opposing his appointment as someone who had desecrated the memory of those who perished.
It mattered not that an assault on Jewish memory came from the highest of offices. Who of us will ever forget Elie Wiesel's plea to President Reagan not to visit SS graves at Bitburg because to do so would "begin to rehabilitate" the SS? Do we not, by giving legitimacy and respectability to Abbas the Holocaust denier, begin to rehabilitate Holocaust denial?
The international spotlight is now shining intensely on him as he has been anointed the great hope for peace. One would have thought this to be the most opportune moment to challenge him on his blasphemy. Instead, those who otherwise would be relentless in calling a denier a denier, have become timid; they've given him a pass. AIPAC issued a statement proclaiming that his election presents a "historic opportunity" for the prospects of peace. Not a word about Holocaust denial. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) published an informative analysis of the Palestinian election, but ignored Abbas' Holocaust denial. AIPAC and the ADL were not alone. Check the other organizational Web sites: nothing.
Why is there the deafening silence when it comes to Abbas, one of the most powerful and influential Arab leaders?
It is with utmost respect that we must urge Wiesel, whose courageous words to Reagan made us so proud, to forcefully speak out. After all, it is he who has always admonished us to dare not be silent when it comes to evil and lies about the Holocaust. And, why has there been silence from Emory professor Deborah Lipstadt, an expert in Holocaust denial, who also made us proud by her strong court battle against Holocaust denier David Irving? These prominent personalities, and all Jewish leaders, must publicly demand that Abbas give an unequivocal apology, fully retract his ugly lies and clearly acknowledge the horror of the Holocaust endured by the Jews.
Neal M. Sher is the former director the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations (the Nazi prosecution unit) and former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Morton A. Klein, a child of Holocaust survivors, is the president of the Zionist Organization of America.