White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has apologised for making an “inappropriate and insensitive” comparison to the Holocaust in earlier comments about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons – remarks that drew instant rebuke from Jewish groups and critics.
Spicer said in an interview with CNN on Tuesday that he was trying to make a point about Assad’s use of chemical weapons and gas against his people but “mistakenly made an inappropriate and insensitive reference to the Holocaust, for which there is no comparison. And for that I apologise. It was a mistake to do that”.
During the daily White House briefing, Spicer told reporters that Adolf Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons”. Critics noted the remark ignored Hitler’s use of gas chambers to exterminate Jews during the Holocaust.
The White House generated criticism at the start of the year when a statement on international Holocaust Remembrance Day did not make any reference to Jews.
In the CNN interview, Spicer said his comments did not reflect President Donald Trump’s views.
“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.”
During the briefing, Spicer was asked about his initial statement but delivered a garbled defence of his remarks in which he tried to differentiate between Hitler’s actions and the gas attack on Syrian civilians last week. The attack in northern Syria left dozens of people dead, and Turkey’s health minister said tests show sarin gas was used.
“I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no, he [Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” Spicer said.
Democrats and Jewish organisations condemned the comments.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that Spicer was “downplaying the horror of the Holocaust” and should be fired.
Senator Ben Cardin said on Twitter, “Someone get @PressSec a refresher history course on Hitler stat (hashtag)#Icantbelievehereallysaidthat.”
The New York-based Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect called on Trump to fire Spicer, saying he denied that Hitler gassed Jews during the Holocaust.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of liberal pro-Israel advocacy group J STreet, called the comments “unforgiveable”.
Quick note to @PressSec: By “holocaust centers,” you must mean Concentration Camps – where my relatives died – many of them gassed.
— Jeremy Ben-Ami (@JeremyBenAmi) April 11, 2017
Lee Zeldin, a Jewish Republican from New York, said in a statement that “as far as comments being made and comparisons of various tactics and methods between now and World War II, you can make the comparison a little differently and it would be accurate, but it’s important to clear up that Hitler did in fact use chemical warfare to murder innocent people”.
According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Nazis experimented with poison gas in late 1939 with the killing of mental patients, which was termed “euthanasia”.
Both mobile and stationary gas chambers were later used, with up to 6,000 Jews gassed each day at Auschwitz alone.
The Holocaust Museum did not mention Spicer’s comments directly, but sent out a tweet shortly after the briefing that showed graphic footage of bodies US forces found while taking control of the Buchenwald concentration camp.
Source: News agencies