White House press secretary Sean Spicer kicked off the Jewish holiday of Passover with comments many have described as by-the-book Holocaust-denial. Now, the Anti-Defamation League is offering Spicer and his colleagues remedial lessons in Holocaust awareness to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
During a press briefing on Tuesday, Spicer compared Syrian President Bashar Assad to German dictator Adolf Hitler, who, according to Spicer, “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”
Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of ADL, sent Spicer a letter on Thursday offering to conduct a training on Holocaust awareness for the press secretary and his staff.
“When the first days of Passover ended and we turned on our phones and televisions yesterday evening, we learned about your comment that Hitler did not gas his own people,” Greenblatt wrote in the letter, published on ADL’s website. “Your comparisons between Assad and Hitler were not only historically inaccurate but they also were inappropriate and offensive.”
The Nazis, under Hitler’s leadership, gassed millions of Jewish people in death camps. Spicer attempted several times to clarify his remarks and faced intense backlash from lawmakers and organizations like the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, called for Spicer’s resignation in a statement on Twitter, saying the press secretary had “engaged in Holocaust denial, the most offensive form of fake news imaginable.”
Later that day, Spicer offer an apology when he was interviewed by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
“I was obviously trying to make a point about the heinous acts that Assad had made against his own people last week using chemical weapons and gas, and frankly, 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,” Spicer said.
But for many critics, Spicer’s comments constituted more than a one-off “mistake.”
“Spicer’s Tuesday comments are but the latest in a series of anti-Semitic dog whistles and Holocaust denials emanating from the president, his staff, and his family,” wrote Vox’s Jacob Gardenswartz on Wednesday.
Many pointed to the White House’s Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, which did not mention the Jewish people ― an erasure that is also a common tactic of Holocaust deniers.
“While you have apologized, this week’s incident as well as others (notably, the International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement omitting Jews and your vociferous defense of it), have exposed a serious gap in your knowledge of the Holocaust, its impact, and the lessons we can learn from it,” wrote Greenblatt.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Read the full letter below:
Dear Mr. Spicer:
This week Jews around the world have spent time with their families celebrating Passover, the feast of freedom. In the Passover liturgy, we read that in each generation there will be those who rise up to harm the Jewish people, much like Pharaoh in ancient times and Hitler in modern times. Understanding and being keenly aware of our history – to “never forget” – is part of Passover and part of the Jewish experience.
Unfortunately, when the first days of Passover ended and we turned on our phones and televisions yesterday evening, we learned about your comment that Hitler did not gas his own people. Your comparisons between Assad and Hitler were not only historically inaccurate but they also were inappropriate and offensive.
While you have apologized, this week’s incident as well as others (notably, the International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement omitting Jews and your vociferous defense of it), have exposed a serious gap in your knowledge of the Holocaust, its impact, and the lessons we can learn from it.
For decades, ADL has been at the forefront of Holocaust education, providing trainings about the Nazi atrocities to a wide range of groups. We have conducted trainings for more than 130,000 law enforcement professionals and more than 35,447 educators, reaching more than 1,000,000 students. Our programs provide historical context for how the Holocaust was able to occur; teach the Holocaust as a human story; and create opportunities for critical thinking. Each of these educational programs focuses on the consequences of unchecked bigotry and hate.
ADL would be happy to conduct one of these trainings at your convenience for you, your staff, and anyone at the White House who may need to learn more about the Holocaust. We know you are very busy, but we believe a few hours learning this history will help you understand where you went wrong and prevent you from making these mistakes in the future.
Jonathan A. Greenblatt