It's nice, for once, to see the New York Times not shy away from highlighting antisemitic statements made by a national leader. Today Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), the president of the Palestinian Authority, made a speech to the European parliament in which asserted that a certain rabbi had called for poisoning the water used by Palestinians. His speech received a standing ovation.
JERUSALEM — Echoing anti-Semitic claims that led to the mass killings of European Jews in medieval times, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority accused rabbis in Israel of calling on their government to poison the water used by Palestinians. He made the unsubstantiated allegation during a speech to the European Parliament on Thursday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said in a statement later that Mr. Abbas had spread a “blood libel” in the speech.
Mr. Abbas made the allegation in the context of calling for the revival of a long dormant committee of Israeli, Palestinian and American officials that was created to expose and denounce incitements from either side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We are against incitement,” he began in his speech.
“Just a week ago, a week, a group of rabbis in Israel announced, in a clear announcement, demanding their government, to poison, to poison, the water of the Palestinians,” he said. “Is this not incitement? Is this not clear incitement, to the mass murder of the Palestinian people?”
Mr. Abbas was repeating a claim initially made on the website of an office of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Anadolu, the Turkish state-run news agency, repeated the claim on Sunday. It was echoed in The Gulf News, a daily newspaper in Dubai. The Anadolu article said that a Rabbi Shlomo Mlma, whom it called the “chairman of the Council of Rabbis in the West Bank settlements,” had issued an “advisory opinion in which he allowed Jewish settlers to poison water in Palestinian villages and cities in the West Bank.”
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that news outlets had not been able to find a Rabbi Mlma or any listing for the council mentioned in the article.
Mr. Abbas’s remarks were not included in the official Arabic transcript issued by his office, and his advisers and spokesmen were not available for comment on Thursday night. But the claims also appeared on the website of the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Mr. Abbas, along with President Reuven Rivlin of Israel, had been invited to Brussels by European officials hoping to rekindle peace negotiations. Mr. Abbas, who did not meet with Mr. Rivlin in Brussels, received a standing ovation at the end of his 43-minute speech.
“In Brussels, Abu Mazen showed his true face,” said the statement from Mr. Netanyahu’s office, referring to Mr. Abbas by his nickname. “Someone who refuses to meet President Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu for direct negotiations and spreads a blood libel in the European Parliament falsely claims that his hand is extended in peace.”
Jewish groups quickly condemned Mr. Abbas’s comments. “It is unconscionable that a foreign leader proudly states a blood libel in the European Parliament and he receives a standing ovation,” Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, said in a statement.
The Gulf News article reported that Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization critical of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank, had made the claims. A spokesman for the organization told Haaretz that it had no knowledge of the affair.
Rumors that Jews had poisoned wells and other sources of water arose in the 14th century as the bubonic plague raged across much of Europe. The rumors led to the destruction of scores of Jewish communities. In Basel, Switzerland, and Strasbourg, France, hundreds of Jews were burned alive.
The latest accusations came amid a water shortage in some Palestinian communities in the West Bank, exacerbated by the summer heat. Advocacy groups and Palestinian officials charge that a discriminatory system allows Israelis to have more water than Palestinians. The United Nations also reported instances in which Jewish settlers have taken control of wells once used by Palestinians in the West Bank.
Mr. Abbas did not touch on those issues in his speech.
In October, he erroneously accused Israeli forces of killing a 13-year-old Palestinian boy who had taken part in the stabbing of two Israelis. The boy had actually been wounded and later recovered.