Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas received a standing ovation on Thursday when he told the European Union Parliament in Brussels that rabbis in Israel were calling for their government to poison Arab water sources. On Saturday, he was forced to retract that statement, admitting that it had no factual basis.
On Thursday, Abbas said that criticism of Palestinian incitement was unjustified as, “The Israelis are doing this as well… Certain rabbis in Israel have said very clearly to their government that our water should be poisoned in order to have Palestinians killed.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Abbas’s remarks, calling them a “blood libel”.
“In Brussels, Abu Mazen (Abbas) showed his true face,” said the statement from Mr. Netanyahu’s office. “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.”
On Saturday, Abbas’ office issued a retraction.
“After it has become evident that the alleged statements by a rabbi on poisoning Palestinian wells, which were reported by various media outlets, are baseless, President Abbas has affirmed that he didn’t intend to do harm to Judaism or to offend Jewish people around the world,” his office said in a statement.
Abbas’s statement and the EU’s reaction are disturbingly reminiscent of blood libels against Jews during the bubonic plague that decimated Europe in the 14th century. Jews were falsely accused of causing the plague by poisoning wells, leading to pogroms which destroyed Jewish communities and killed thousands of Jews.
The story was discovered to be false by Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), an Israeli NGO that monitors Palestinian incitement. PMW claims that Abbas’s accusation is based on an article published last week in Anadolu, a Turkish news service, which claimed , “Rabbi Shlomo Mlma (sic), chairman of the Council of Rabbis in the West Bank settlements(sic), has issued an advisory opinion in which he allowed Jewish settlers to poison water in Palestinian villages and cities in the West Bank.”
PMW reported that the story in Anadolu was based on a claim by Yehuda Shaul, a leader of the extreme left-wing Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence. Shaul was quoted in the Hebrew news service, NRG, as saying that “settlers poisoned” the water of a Palestinian town a number of years ago causing the Palestinians to leave.
The story was confirmed as incorrect by several news services including Reuters and Haaretz. No such rabbi or council was found to exist.
Abbas has been known to make accusations against the Israelis that are factually incorrect. In October, he accused Israeli security forces on Palestinian televison of “executing children like Ahmad Manasra”. Manasra, 13 years old, had stabbed two Israeli teens in Pisgat Zeev, Jerusalem. Manasra was not killed, but was alive and being treated in an Israeli hospital after being hit by a car while fleeing the scene of the attack.