ADL offers to host Holocaust educational session for White House staff

In letter to Spicer, Jewish group says a few hours of learning WWII history will help prevent future mistakes by members of administration

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer speaks to a reporter about a comparison he made between Syria's President Bashar Assad and Adolf Hitler during an earlier press briefing at the White House April 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer speaks to a reporter about a comparison he made between Syria's President Bashar Assad and Adolf Hitler during an earlier press briefing at the White House April 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

WASHINGTON — The Anti-Defamation League sent a letter to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Thursday offering to host a special educational session on the Holocaust for White House staff.

The offer came after a series of gaffes by the administration of US President Donald Trump, the latest of which involved Spicer comparing Hitler and Syrian President Bashar Assad — and suggesting incorrectly that not even the Nazi leader resorted to using chemical weapons during World War II.

In the letter, the Jewish civil rights group said the comments — for which Spicer has since more than once apologized — were “not only historically inaccurate, but they were inappropriate and offensive.”

The organization told Spicer it “would be happy to conduct” a Holocaust educational training session “for you, your staff, and anyone at the White House who may need to learn about the Holocaust.”

Acknowledging that he had issued his mea culpa, the group said Tuesday’s incident — as well as others, most notably the White House statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that omitted any mention of Jews — “have exposed a serious gap in your knowledge of the Holocaust, its impact and the lessons we can learn from it.”

“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 same mistakes in the future,” read the letter, signed by ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.

“Unfortunately, when the first days of Passover ended and we turned on our phones and televisions yesterday evening, we learned about your ignorance of the Jewish people’s history,” he wrote.

The ADL often offers training in Holocaust awareness and tolerance to law enforcement professionals and educators. “Each of these educational programs implores participants to remember the consequences of hate left unchecked,” the letter explained.

The proposal follows an incident in which Spicer told a stunned Washington press corps during a daily press briefing on Tuesday that: “We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II. You know, you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”

His words were an attempt to amplify the magnitude of assessments that Assad used sarin gas in an assault last week on Khan Sheikhoun, a town in Syria’s Idlib province, that killed over 80 people, including dozens of children.

Prompted to explain his initial comments, Spicer then issued a number of clarifications, saying he knew millions of Jews and other victims of the Nazis were killed in “Holocaust centers” in Nazi-occupied Europe, many in gas chambers, but that “when it comes to sarin gas, [Hitler] was not using the gas on his people the same way that Ashad [sic] is doing.”

In a subsequent statement to reporters meant to clarify his remarks once again, he said, “In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust. I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable.”

The press secretary then issued a full apology, telling 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, insensitive reference to the Holocaust — for which, frankly, there is no comparison.”

“For that, I apologize. It was a mistake to do that.”

Spicer also took pains to distance his boss, US President Donald Trump, from his comments.

“My comments today did not reflect the president’s, were a distraction from him and frankly were misstated, insensitive and wrong.” He added, “Obviously it was my blunder.”

In his interview with Blitzer, Spicer was asked if he was familiar with the common Nazi practice of using gas chambers. “Yes, clearly I’m aware of that,” he said.

Despite Spicer’s repeated attempts to smooth over his impromptu remarks, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called on Trump to fire him over the remarks.

“While Jewish families across America celebrate Passover, the chief spokesman for this White House is downplaying the horrors of he Holocaust,” Pelosi said in a statement, adding that Spicer “must be fired” and Trump must “disavow” his statements.

“Either he is speaking for the President, or the President should have known better than to hire him,” she said.


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