What was most disturbing about the White House’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement was not the fact that it even saw the light of day – anyone in Washington knows that junior staff can craft poor wording or the internal vetting process may be in disarray particularly as a new administration gets its bearings.
What was more disturbing was learning, from the White House itself, that the omission of the murder of six million Jews was intentional as well as the administration subsequently doubling down on its statement with no regrets.
And what is most disturbing is the very real concern about what leadership role the United States can claim in the fight against growing global anti-Semitism if the White House can’t even attach Jewish deaths to the Holocaust.
Friday’s statement attributed to President Trump honored “the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust,” and remembered “the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.” No mention of Jews, no “final solution,” no direct acknowledgment of why Holocaust Remembrance Day exists in the first place.
White House director of strategic communications Hope Hicks responded to a CNN query on the omission by saying they are “an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered.” Luckily, White House statements, though, have no word limit. Not only have past administrations paid tribute to the six million Jews murdered in the Shoah, but included other victims of the Nazis as well. Take, for example, Vice President Joe Biden’s 2015 statement “remembering the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust and the millions of Poles, Roma, LGBT people, and so many others whose lives were extinguished by the Nazi regime.”
Semantics, some might say. But naming the very nature of the Holocaust – the Nazi campaign to exterminate Jews – is something for which there can be no fuzzy, inclusive wording. Just as the administration stresses the phrase radical Islam to accurately name the enemy in order to effectively fight the enemy, you can’t fight anti-Semitism without saying it manifested in the 20th century mass murder of six million Jews.
Indeed, the wording met with approval from neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, which praised the White House’s defiance of “the science fiction Zionist folklore about ovens and gas chambers” and said the president is “still exceeding expectations in pushing back against Jewish supremacy.”
In any other time and place, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus would be howling about a Democratic administration issuing the same statement as the Trump administration. The proper thing for him to say in a defensive position, as wingman for a White House that did issue the missing-Jews statement, would be admitting that they were in the wrong, apologizing and rectifying. But, no.
In defending the statement on Meet the Press, Priebus said “everyone suffering in the Holocaust including, obviously, all of the Jewish people affected in 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.” Yes, the Holocaust “included” six million slain Jews “affected,” along with families torn apart and survivors of death camps living with the scars. We can’t wipe it out of the history books, we can’t wipe it out of frank dialogue about “never again,” and we can’t wipe it out of official statements. We must remember. We must remind.
The White House could have not only acknowledged the murder of six million Jews, but taken the opportunity to decry the scourge of anti-Semitism and vow to fight the growing trend – again, naming the problem instead of the Trump statement’s generic promise to “make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world.” Instead of press secretary Sean Spicer blasting criticism of the omission as “pathetic,” they should turn their fire toward pathetic anti-Semites – and commit to being an administration that remembers the Shoah every day of the year in word, policy and action.
As the office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, a now-vacant State Department position, tweeted on Holocaust Remembrance Day, “it is our duty to protect Jewish communities & combat anti-Semitism.”
Fill the envoy position. Revolutionize the office to be a world leader in fighting all forms of anti-Semitism, from neo-Nazi movements to institutionalized discrimination at the United Nations. Clearly define anti-Semitism and name the offenders, and craft strategies from education to genocide prevention on an international scale to combat the scourge. Partner with Jewish and gentile groups across the political spectrum for an unprecedented, comprehensive strike at anti-Semitism.
Make this the time when the United States and global partners truly commit to “never again.” That would really make a statement.