Intentionally or not, Donald Trump’s White House has been trafficking in anti-Semitism since Day 1 of his presidency, and throughout his campaign before that.
Considering that history ― a remarkably long dossier of insensitive comments, marketing materials and unsavory associations ― it’s impossible to view White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s recent remarks about Syria and Nazi Germany as a mere misstatement.
Spicer told a roomful of reporters on Tuesday that Adolf Hitler never used chemical weapons against his own people. He actually coined a new euphemism ― “Holocaust centers” ― to refer to Nazi gas chambers.
Spicer’s comments overlooked the fact that German Jews ― Hitler’s own people ― were murdered using poison gas. This could have been a sort of unconscious slip on Spicer’s part ― maybe he doesn’t really see German Jews in Nazi Germany as citizens. More likely, it was just a bad analogy. Never compare atrocities, conventional wisdom advises. Spicer has since issued several apologies.
Regardless of Spicer’s mindset or intent, we can’t simply write off his comments as an isolated incident.
Let’s look at the context. Within the first hour of his presidency, on Jan. 20, Trump used his inauguration speech to revive a slogan ― America First ― that was cooked up by Nazi sympathizers before World War II. the Anti-Defamation League pointed this out to Trump during the campaign and asked him to stop using the slogan. He didn’t.
Just one week later, Jan. 27, the White House put out a statement honoring Holocaust Remembrance Day that omitted mention of Jewish people. And for days afterward, various members of Trump’s staff (including Spicer) defended the statement as being “inclusive,” saying it wasn’t just Jews who suffered during the Holocaust.
The next month, Trump and his administration were so slow to acknowledge what looked like a coordinated campaign of bomb threats against Jewish community centers that the president found himself telling an Orthodox Jewish reporter that he’s “the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.”
The reporter, Jake Turx, was trying to ask Trump what the administration was doing about the bomb threats. He never got a chance, however. Mid-sentence, Trump cut him off and said it wasn’t “a fair question.” He told Turx― who was wearing traditional Hasidic garb and sporting side curls and a yarmulke ― to sit down. It was a remarkably insensitive exchange with a Jewish man who was obviously concerned with the safety and security of his own people.
In response to growing criticism over anti-Semitism, Trump’s defense has been, essentially, that some of his best friends are Jewish. Son-in-law Jared Kushner, daughter Ivanka and his grandchildren all are Jews, he points out.
But this defense rings hollow when you consider not just the abundance of careless flubs and insensitive comments, but some of Trump’s other “friends.”
Many of Trump’s biggest supporters are virulently anti-Semitic white nationalists and neo-Nazis ― including former KKK leader David Duke and white nationalist leader Richard Spencer, who’ve been supporting him since the earliest days of his presidential run. Steve Bannon, Trump’s senior strategist, used to lead Breitbart.com, which traffics in white nationalist articles. A top Trump adviser, Sebastian Gorka, reportedly has ties to a Nazi-aligned group in Hungary.
Trump also has a disturbing history of using Jewish stereotypes, reportedly once saying, “The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”
More recently, the closing TV ad of his campaign trafficked in abhorrent Jewish conspiracy theories about billionaire George Soros, bankers, and the “globalist threat” (a coded anti-Semitic insult more recently deployed by Bannon as a slur against two Jewish members of Trump’s staff). During the campaign, there was retweeting of white supremacists and a one-time tweet with a photo of Hillary Clinton and a Jewish star, surrounded by cash ― all images embraced by a certain kind of anti-Semite.
When some of your biggest fans and most crucial staff members are outspoken white supremacists, when your campaign and election have revived hatred against Jewish people, when you hire as your chief strategist a guy who runs a website that caters to white nationalists, and when your administration repeatedly makes unforced errors talking about the Holocaust, you have an obligation to do better or we must de facto assume this is on purpose.
At a minimum, Jewish issues are something that Trump’s White House should know to treat with care and seriousness. At a minimum, maybe Trump should have shown up at Monday’s White House Passover seder.
Spicer should understand the problem, and just leave the Holocaust out of his daily talking points.