Facing growing criticism for failing to mention Jews in a statement marking the Holocaust, the Trump administration on Sunday doubled down on the controversial decision.
In a statement on Friday, President Donald Trump broke with the bipartisan practice of past presidents by failing to include any mention of the anti-Semitic views that fueled the Holocaust and left 6 million Jews and millions of others dead.
“I don’t regret the words,” said White House chief of staff Reince Priebus when asked to defend the statement on NBC on Sunday.
“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,” Priebus added.
Trump’s 117-word statement was issued on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. President Trump remembered “the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust” without specifically mentioning the attempted extermination of Jewish people.
What might have been seen as an oversight was confirmed by White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks to have been an intentional decision.
“Despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered,” Hicks told CNN on Saturday.
On Sunday, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) sharply criticized the White House for deploying a well-known tactic of Holocaust deniers.
“This is what Holocaust denial is,” Kaine said on NBC. “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 targets.”
Conservative commentator John Podhoretz slammed the White House’s defense of its actions in a column on Saturday, noting that Nazi ideology rested on the aim of exterminating Jewish people from the face of earth.
“The Nazis killed an astonishing number of people in monstrous ways and targeted certain groups — Gypsies,and the mentally challenged,….. among others,” Podhoretz wrote. “But the Final Solution was aimed solely at the Jews. The Holocaust was about the Jews.
“There is no ‘proud’ way to offer a remembrance of the Holocaust that does not reflect that simple, awful, world-historical fact,” he added. “To universalize it to ‘all those who suffered’ is to scrub the Holocaust of its meaning.”
In fact, the United Nations created the International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2005 in part to combat a growing wave of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial worldwide.
The tactic of minimizing the impact of the Holocaust on Jewish people is also closely associated with nationalist movements in Europe, including the far right National Front Party in France now led by Marine Le Pen, whose father Jean-Marie Le Pen was fined for Holocaust denial.
The younger Le Pen has sought to make connections with Trump, calling his victory in the November election a “sign of hope” for her own political future.
Kaine tied Trump’s move on Friday to bar the entry of travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries to the puzzling Holocaust statement issued on the same day.
“The fact that they did that and imposed this religious test against Muslims in the executive order on the same day, this is not a coincidence,” Kaine said.
But Priebus noted that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is also a senior adviser in the White House, is Jewish. Trump’s daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism before the two married.
“You know that President Trump has dear family members that are Jewish and there was no harm or ill will or offense intended by any of that,” Priebus added.
The full text of Trump’s statement reads:
“It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust. It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.
“Yet, we know that in the darkest hours of humanity, light shines the brightest. As we remember those who died, we are deeply grateful to those who risked their lives to save the innocent.
“In the name of the perished, I pledge to do everything in my power throughout my Presidency, and my life, to ensure that the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good. Together, we will make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world.”