WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s press secretary lashed out at criticism Monday over the White House’s statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that omitted any mention of Jews or anti-Semitism, calling it “pathetic” that people were “nitpicking” the president’s efforts to highlight and remember the tragedy.
“The idea that you’re nitpicking a statement that sought to remember this tragic event that occurred and the people who died in it is just ridiculous,” Sean Spicer said. “To suggest that remembering the Holocaust and acknowledging all of the people — Jewish, gypsies, priests, disabled, gays and lesbians — is frankly pathetic that people are picking on a statement.”
On Friday, the administration released a press release remembering the victims of the Shoah, but without specifically noting the 6 million Jews who were targeted and killed by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany, an omission that led to criticism from Jewish groups and others.
“It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust,” President Trump said. “It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.”
ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt promptly exclaimed that it was “puzzling and troubling” that the administration’s 117-word statement did not mention the persecution of the Jews, which was central to the Nazi genocide.
Trump’s statement, Greenblatt said, “misses that it was six million Jews who perished, not just ‘innocent people.’”
The omission also drew frustration from members of the Jewish community who have been allies of the president.
The staunchly pro-Trump Zionist Organization of America released a statement by its president Morton Klein that said the organization felt “compelled to express our chagrin and deep pain at President Trump, in his Holocaust Remembrance Day Message, omitting any mention of anti-Semitism and the six million Jews who were targeted and murdered by the German Nazi regime and others.”
And a spokesman for the Republican Jewish Coalition said “the lack of a direct statement about the suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust was an unfortunate omission.”
Asked about this backlash during his daily press briefing, Spicer said the White House did not find any fault in its management of the message, adding he was disappointed anyone would complain.
“The president went out of his way to recognize the Holocaust and the suffering that went through it and the people that were affected by it and the loss of life, and to make sure that America never forgets what so many people through, whether they were Jews or gypsies, gays, disability, priests,” he said.
Spicer added that Trump had been mostly praised for his statement, though he did not elaborate on who had offered plaudits.
Spicer also cited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reception of the new president to fend off criticism that he is not sensitive to the sensibilities of the Jewish people.
“You look at what Prime Minister Netanyahu’s talked about,” he said. “He welcomes this administration. He appreciates the friendship and respect that [Trump] has shown to Israel and to the Jewish people. ”
Throughout the campaign and since taking the White House, Trump has been hounded by accusations of drawing support from anti-Semitic or so-called alt-right groups, including over his appointment of former Brietbart editor Steven Bannon to a top White House position.
Many historians and others see the lack of recognition of the Jewish people’s unique targeting for mass extermination in the Shoah as a form of Holocaust denial that seeks to downplay Jewish suffering.
“This is what Holocaust denial is,” Virginia Senator and former Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine told NBC’s Chuck Todd on Sunday. “Many Holocaust deniers acknowledge, ‘Oh yeah, people were killed but it was a lot of innocent people. Jews weren’t targeted.’”
Spicer on Monday tried to suggest former president Barack Obama’s management of the US-Israel relationship and other regional issues were a larger slight to Jews than Trump’s statement.
“When you contrast that frankly with a statement, and you look at the actions of the last administration: the Iran nuclear deal, them giving Palestine an equal footing in terms of the amendment that was passed at the UN Security Council on their way out the door,” he said, referring to last month’s UNSC Resolution 2334 that condemned Israeli settlements as illegal, on which the Obama administration abstained and thus allowed through.
“To compare a statement that remembers the Holocaust with the actions of the last eight years, and the disrespect that was shown to Israel, is unbelievable,” Spicer added.
Obama often criticized the settlement project as an obstacle to peace and self-destructive to Israel’s future, but he also signed a Memorandum of Understanding guaranteeing Israel $38 billion in military aid over the next 10 years, the largest such package in American history, which his supporters cite as an example of his support for the Jewish state.
The agreement came in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal, which has been bitterly opposed by Netanyahu.
While Spicer would not specify who wrote the statement the White House released in Trump’s name, he did say it was written by something who is “both Jewish and the descendants of Holocaust survivors.”
Spicer denied he was referring to Trump’s Orthodox Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner. The other likely possibility would be Trump speechwriter Stephen Miller, who is the grandson of Holocaust survivors.
The 31-year-old White House adviser is credited with writing most of Trump’s speeches during the campaign, including a controversial October address in which he spoke of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton conducting secret meetings with international bankers to destroy US sovereignty.
Miller also helped craft Trump’s inauguration address.