Palestinian leader apologizes for speech condemned as anti-Semitic

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures as he chairs a Palestinian National Council meeting on Monday.

Jerusalem (CNN)Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has apologized for remarks in a recent speech that were widely condemned as anti-Semitic.

In a statement released by his office, Abbas said he did not intend to cause offense in a speech to the Palestinian National Council on Monday, in which he claimed the Holocaust was driven not by anti-Semitism but by a reaction to the financial activities of European Jews.
In his speech, citing books written by what he described as Zionist Jewish authors, Abbas also re-aired a discredited theory that Ashkenazi Jews hail from Khazaria, an empire located in Eastern Europe, rather than the biblical Holy Land.
    "If people were offended by my statement in front of the PNC, especially people of the Jewish faith, I apologize to them," Abbas said in his statement. "I would like to assure everyone that it was not my intention to do so, and to reiterate my full respect for the Jewish faith, as well as other monotheistic faiths."
    "I would also like to reiterate our long-held condemnation of the Holocaust, as the most heinous crime in history, and express our sympathy with its victims," Friday's statement from Abbas said. "Likewise, we condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms, and confirm our commitment to the two-state solution, and to live side by side in peace and security."
    Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman was quick to reject the apology from Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen. He tweeted, "Abu Mazen is a wretched Holocaust denier, who wrote a doctorate of Holocaust denial and later also published a book on Holocaust denial. That is how he should be treated. His apologies are not accepted."
    Abbas' comments in front of Palestinian leaders on Monday drew widespread international condemnation.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "With utmost ignorance and brazen gall, he claimed that European Jews were persecuted and murdered not because they were Jews but because they gave loans with interest."
    US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said Abbas had "reached a new low," adding "to all those who think Israel is the reason that we don't have peace, think again."
    The European Union described Abbas' remarks as "unacceptable."
    The UN's chief Middle East envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, said Abbas had repeated "some of the most contemptuous anti-Semitic slurs" that did not "serve the interests of the Palestinian people, or of peace in the Middle East."
    And in a strongly worded editorial, calling the remarks "vile," the New York Times said it was time for Abbas to step down as Palestinian leader.