In his short time as White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer has made a lot of bold claims — but few were as bold (or as incorrect) as his false assertion on April 11 that Adolf Hitler did not use chemical weapons during the Holocaust. Hitler, of course, was the leader that started the Holocaust's campaign of terror that killed up to six million Jews and 11 million people total — an estimated million or more of whom died from the chemical agent Zyklon B in concentration camp gas chambers. This horrific tactic would certainly be categorized under the use of "chemical weapons."
Spicer has since apologized for those incorrect comments, but their implication remains the same. In attempting to compare Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to Hitler, Spicer minimized the seriousness of a genocide that killed millions and began a world war. He also made a poor argument for the very real reasons why Assad has also committed major human rights violations in his most recent alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians.
Spicer's comments on their own are indefensible and, at best, a major embarrassment for his office and the White House. But taken in context with the Trump administration's failure to recognize the Jewish community at other points in time since January, Spicer's latest gaffe is shocking.
A little over a week into his fledgling presidency, Trump's White House statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day controversially left out any mention of Jews or anti-Semitism — and soon after, Spicer himself defended the statement by accusing the public of "nitpicking" at it. It's likely that this latest instance is yet another example of Spicer putting his foot in his mouth. But it's necessary to acknowledge that this one has much greater implications in light of the growing anti-Semitic threat in the United States — a threat that some Jewish organizations believe the Trump administration has underplayed or ignored.
For example, Trump didn't address the wave of anti-Semitic attacks in America until Feb. 21, which seemed late considering Jewish community centers had already received bomb threats and Jewish cemeteries had been vandalized. Trump eventually called the attacks a "very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”
Spicer himself admitted on Wolf Blitzer's CNN show and after his press briefing that drawing comparisons between Assad and Hitler is inappropriate, but the damage may already have been done.