White House Issues Insufficient Statement for Holocaust Remembrance Day

Written by Alexander J. Segal on

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On January 27, 2017, the White House released a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day [link].

The statement has drawn controversy and ire because of its failure to specifically mention the Jewish people, the primary victims and targets of the Holocaust. The statement includes “the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust” and “those who died,” but proverbially tap dances around specifying the millions of Jews who were murdered by the Nazi regime.

In response to the ensuing controversy, White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks stated the reason for the omission was because “we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all those who suffered.”1 On Meet the Press, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus also defended the statement, expressing no regret for the phrasing. Priebus attempted to clarify, stating that “[e]veryone'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.”2

These explanations only raised the ire of Commentary editor John Podhoretz, who noted — accurately — that while the Holocaust targeted many groups, it “was about the Jews.” He continued, “[t]here is no 'proud' way to offer a remembrance of the Holocaust that does not reflect … this fact.” Podhoretz told a troubling story from his time as a speechwriter in the Reagan Administration, when he drafted President Reagan's remarks to be delivered at the laying of the cornerstone of the Holocaust Museum in Washington. According to Podhoretz, his speech was marked up by one official for “taking sides” but focusing primarily on the Jewish victims of the Holocaust.3

Podhoretz is quite right, and two facts make the White House statement even more puzzling. First, both Presidents Bush and Obama never failed to mention that the primary target of the Holocaust was the Jewish people.4 In recent weeks, I have noted many of my issues regarding President Obama's treatment of Israel and Jewish victims of Islamist terror [see blog], but it should be noted his White House did not fail to acknowledge that Jews were the primary victims of the Holocaust on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Had the Obama Administration done so, he would have no doubt been attacked with verve on Meet the Press by the then-Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus.

Second, in January of 2016, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau generated controversy for — you guessed it — failing to specifically mention the primary victims of the Holocaust in his statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day.5 One would think after this had been a story across the border twelve months ago that it would be an easy mistake to not repeat.

Had the White House wanted to note all of the victims of the Holocaust, it could have very easily released a statement that both acknowledged the Jewish people and noted many others — such as gypsies, homosexuals, and political prisoners — who were murdered as well. Instead, as Podhoretz described it, the statement served “to scrub the Holocaust of its meaning.”

I join those who find the President's remarks gravely insufficient at best, and the explanations of Hicks and Priebus more troubling than less. I supported President Trump in the election and I would not have done so if I thought he was an anti-Semite. I continue to support him when he is right and oppose him when he is wrong. Support is not a blank check [see blog]. Had former President Obama delivered the same statement, he would be attacked by me and others on the right for having done it, defended by many of those on the left who have attacked President Trump. President Trump would do himself well to acknowledge that the White House statement was — charitably — poorly drafted, and issue an addendum and explanation.

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  1. Tapper, Jake, “WH: No mention of Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day because others were killed too,” cnn.com, (Jan. 28, 2017)
  2. Savaransky, Rebecca, “Priebus defends White House statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day,” thehill.com, (Jan. 29, 2017)
  3. Podhoretz, John, “The White House Holocaust Horror,” commentarymagazine.com, (Jan. 28, 2017)
  4. Tapper, Jake, “WH: No mention of Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day because others were killed too,” cnn.com, (Jan. 28, 2017)
  5. Marmure, Dow, “Justin Trudeau was wrong not to mention Jews in Holocaust remembrance,” thestar.com, (Feb. 15, 2016)