- Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday defended the controversial White House statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day on Friday, which did not specifically mention Jewish people. Spicer said President Donald Trump had been “praised” for the statement and called its critics “pathetic.”
He added that Trump “went out of his way to recognize the Holocaust.”
“Well, I think he’s aware of what people have been saying,” Spicer said. “But I think, by and large, he’s been praised for it. The president recognized the tremendous loss of life that came from the Holocaust.
“But I think with respect to Israel and the Jewish people specifically, there’s been no better friend than Donald Trump when it comes to protecting Israel, building a better friendship with Israel,” he continued. “You look at what Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu has talked about – he welcomes this administration. He appreciates the friendship and respect he has shown to Israel and the Jewish people.”
Spicer said suggestions that Trump was attempting to delegitimize the targeted execution of more than 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany were “frankly disappointing” and “pathetic,” based on the president’s full-throated support for Israel and Jewish people.
Spicer also said the statement was written with “the help of an individual who is both Jewish and the decedent of Holocaust survivors,” possibly meaning White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. The press secretary expressed astonishment that recognizing other groups killed in the Holocaust, such as gypsies and people with disabilities, would spark controversy.
“I think he acknowledged the suffering that existed and wants to make sure that it’s enshrined in the American people’s memory so that something like this never, never happens again,” Spicer said of Trump’s statement.
Referencing the Obama administration’s relationship with Israel, Spicer said comparing “a statement with the actions of the last eight years” was “unbelievable.”
Here was the full statement from Trump:
“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.”
Asked by CNN on Saturday if the omission was intentional, Hope Hicks, the White House director of strategic communications, said the White House had not made a mistake.
“Despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered,” she said in a statement, providing a link to a Huffington Post UK story that noted that 5 million people were slaughtered by the Nazis in addition to the 6 million Jews.
Anti-Defamation League President Jonathan Greenblatt said the statement was “puzzling and troubling.”
“White House statement on #HolocaustMemorialDay misses that it was six million Jews who perished, not just ‘innocent people,'” he wrote in a tweet. “Puzzling and troubling White House #HolocaustMemorialDay [statement] has no mention of Jews. GOP and Dem. presidents have done so in the past.”
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on Sunday defended the statement during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” with Chuck Todd.
Priebus denied there was “harm or ill-will or offense intended by any of that,” but added he did not “regret the words” of the statement.
“Obviously, that that was what the Holocaust was about,” Priebus said. “And it’s a horrible event, and obviously a miserable time in history that we remember here at the White House and certainly will never forget the Jewish people that suffered in World War II.”
“I’m trying to clear it up for you,” he later said. “I mean, everyone’s suffering in the Holocaust, including obviously all of the Jewish people affected, and the miserable genocide that occurred is something that we consider to be extraordinarily sad, and something that can never be forgotten, and something that if we could wipe it off of the history books we could, but we can’t. And it’s terrible.”