In addition to issuing an executive order banning refugees in general and adherents of one religion in particular, the Trump administration observed International Holocaust Remembrance Day by releasing a statement that didn’t mention Jews, 6 million of whom died in the Holocaust. Instead, the statement said only that “innocent people” were subject to “Nazi terror.”
The White House’s unconventional Holocaust memorialization was criticized by, among others, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, several Jewish organizations (including at least two Republican ones), former national security adviser Susan Rice, and Senator Tim Kaine, who noted that downplaying the Nazis’ anti-Semitism is often a feature of Holocaust denial. “It’s either to deny that it happened, or many Holocaust deniers acknowledge, ‘Oh, yeah, people were killed. But it was a lot of innocent people. Jews weren’t targeted,’” Kaine said. “The fact that they did that and imposed this religious test against Muslims in the executive orders on the same day — this is not a coincidence.”
But in a Sunday appearance on Meet the Press, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus doubled down on what Chuck Todd described as “whitewashing Jews from that statement.” “I don’t regret the words,” said Priebus. “Everyone’s suffering [in] the Holocaust, including obviously all of the Jewish people affected and miserable genocide that occurs — it’s something that we consider to be extraordinarily sad.” He went on to say, “If we could wipe [the Holocaust] off the history books, we would, but we can’t,” which wasn’t the best choice of words, given the circumstances.
Priebus’s defense of the statement came after White House spokesperson Hope Hicks suggested that the administration was merely trying to be respectful of the 5 million non-Jews killed during the Holocaust. After providing news outlets with a link to a Huffington Post article noting that “priests, gypsies, people with mental or physical disabilities, communists, trade unionists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, anarchists, Poles and other Slavic peoples, and resistance fighters” were also murdered by the Nazis, Hicks said, “Despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered.” Hicks’s explanation might be more believable if her “incredibly inclusive group” wasn’t so dominated by Steve Bannon.