Sean Spicer‘s fumbled comparison of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to Adolf Hitler during Tuesday’s press briefing already has at least one high-profile Holocaust organization calling for the White House press secretary to lose his job.
The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect on Tuesday demanded that President Donald Trump “fire” Spicer, who said less than an hour before that Hitler—who murdered millions of Jews with poisonous gas—did not use chemical weapons.
“We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II,” Spicer said in relation to the U.S. airstrike on a Syrian government facility last week, in response to Assad launching a chemical weapons attack on his own people, killing 80. “We had someone as despicable as Hitler, who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”
In fact, sarin gas, which Assad is believed to have used, was created by the Nazis.
Spicer later clarified, repeatedly, that his comments were not intended to “lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust.” The walked-back statement was not enough to stave off the Anne Frank Center’s condemnation and accusations of Holocaust denialism.
“On Passover no less, Sean Spicer has engaged in Holocaust denial, the most offensive form of fake news imaginable, by denying Hitler gassed millions of Jews to death,” Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center, said in a statement. “Spicer’s statement is the most evil slur upon a group of people we have overheard from a White House press secretary. Sean Spicer now lacks the integrity to serve as White House press secretary, and President Trump must fire him at once.”
The White House did not immediately respond to our request for comment.
Issues surrounding anti-Semitism have pressed on the Trump campaign and White House in the past. Trump has embraced his chief strategist Steve Bannon, who formerly ran the alt-right outlet Breitbart News, and encouraged his alt-right supporters, some of whom express white nationalist views, during his campaign.
Earlier this year, Trump came under fire after expressing a reluctance to denounce the anti-Semitic voices that latched onto his campaign amid a series of bomb threats against Jewish community centers around the United States. Trump later called anti-Semitism “repulsive” and vowed to fight back against “bigotry, intolerance, and hatred in all of its very ugly forms.”
“The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” Trump said.
Goldstein has repeatedly criticized the way President Trump has addressed issues of anti-Semitism. Writing in an op-ed published this week by Forward, Goldstein called Trump’s response to anti-Semitic views “paltry.”
“Unless President Trump acknowledges the epidemic and creates a new plan to stop it,” Goldstein wrote, “he will have withdrawn the moral metronome against prejudice set by most presidents since Abraham Lincoln.”
Update 10am CT, April 12: In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday night, Spicer offered a rare apology for his remarks about Hitler and chemical weapons, which he said were a “mistake.”
“I was obviously trying to make a point about the heinous acts that Assad had made against his own people last week, using chemical weapons and gas. Frankly, I mistakenly made an inappropriate and insensitive reference to the Holocaust, for which there is no comparison,” Spicer said. “And for that I apologize. It was a mistake to do that.”