Yesterday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer criticized Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons, asserting that even Adolf Hitler did not stoop to that level of warfare and “was not using the gas on his own people in the same way that Assad is doing.” Spicer later walked back his remarks, which he made during the Passover holiday and were perceived by many as downplaying the horrors of the Holocaust.
During Tuesday’s White House briefing, Spicer offhandedly brought up Hitler in response to a question regarding the alliance between Assad and Russia. Spicer first noted that the United States “didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II,” and then pronounced that “Hitler . . . didn’t even sink to the using [of] chemical weapons.” When asked to elaborate, Spicer explained, “I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no—he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.” Expressions of shock reverberated across the faces of reporters in the room, several of whom tried to remind Spicer that Hitler had in fact used gas to kill millions of people in concentration camps. One reporter even shouted: “He gassed the Jews!”
Although Trump and his aides rarely apologize for making controversial remarks—regardless of how offensive or false they may be—Spicer offered a mea culpa on CNN mere hours after the press briefing. Speaking to Wolf Blitzer, the child of holocaust survivors, Spicer stated: “I mistakenly used an inappropriate and insensitive reference to the Holocaust for which, frankly, there is no comparison. And for that, I apologize. It was a mistake to do that.”
The Trump administration has experience with comments that downplay the Holocaust and are widely perceived as anti-Semitic. While campaigning against Hillary Clinton, Trump tweeted a graphic of the Star of David on top of piles of money—an image that had been circulating widely online in anti-Semitic circles. And, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the White House released a statement that conspicuously omitted any mention of the Jewish people or the anti-Semitism driving the Holocaust. The Trump administration’s standard riposte to accusations of anti-Semitism is to note that Trump’s daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren are Jewish.
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