Lawmakers and Jewish organizations, including the Anne Frank Center, are continuing to call for White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer to be fired, after Spicer compared Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Hitler and falsely claimed Hitler never used chemical weapons. In fact, the Nazis systematically used poison gas as part of its genocide of 6 million Jews. The Nazis began experimenting with gas with the specific purpose of carrying out mass murder in the late 1930s. We speak to Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Lawmakers and Jewish organizations, including the Anne Frank Center, are continuing to call for the White House spokesman, Sean Spicer, to be fired, after Spicer compared Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Hitler and falsely claimed Hitler never used chemical weapons. This is Spicer speaking on Tuesday, the first day of the Jewish holiday of Passover.
PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: You look, we didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II. You know, you had a—you know, someone as despicable as Hitler, who didn’t even sink to the—to using chemical weapons. So you have to, if you’re Russia, ask yourself: Is this a country that you, and a regime, that you want to align yourself with?
AMY GOODMAN: In fact, the Nazis systematically used poison gas as part of its genocide of 6 million Jews and others. The Nazis began experimenting with gas with the specific purpose of carrying out mass murder in the late ’30s. After the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, they deployed gas vans to kill hundreds of thousands of people. By 1942, the Nazis had set up a series of concentration camps where gas chambers were the main method of killing people. At its peak, as many as 6,000 people, mostly Jews, were gassed to death every day at Auschwitz concentration camp alone.
During his comments, Spicer also referred to Nazi concentration camps as "holocaust centers." Hours later, Spicer apologized, although he made a number of mistakes during his apology, including mispronouncing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s name.
PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: I mistakenly used an inappropriate and insensitive reference to the Holocaust, for which, frankly, there is no—there is no comparison. And for that, I apologize. It was a mistake to do that. I needed to make sure that I clarified and not was in any way, shape or form any more of a distraction from the president’s decisive action in Syria and the attempts that he’s making to destabilize the region. There’s no way that I can see a stable and peaceful Syria with Bashad al-Asiya—Bashar al-Saad in charge.
WOLF BLITZER: Bashar al-Assad. I know you’ve mispronounced his name a few times, but it’s Bashar al-Assad.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: That’s Sean Spicer speaking to Wolf Blitzer. Spicer later said he meant to say President Trump was seeking to stabilize the region, not to destabilize it. On Wednesday, Spicer apologized again, saying he regrets that he, quote, "let the president down."
PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: I made a mistake. There’s no either way—I mean, there’s no other way to say it. I got into a topic that I shouldn’t have. And—and I screwed up.
AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect posted on Facebook, quote, "That’s not an apology. That’s a bungled political strategy only in response to a public outcry. Spicer needs to go."
Well, for more, we’re joined by Steven Goldstein, the executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect.
Steven Goldstein, welcome to Democracy Now!
STEVEN GOLDSTEIN: Great to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: Why is this so important to you?
STEVEN GOLDSTEIN: OK. Coming on Passover, I, like many other Jews, were—was with my family during two seders. My entire family wanted to throw up in disbelief. Passover tells the story of Jews who were oppressed, and here we have the press secretary to the president of the United States denying that Adolf Hitler gassed millions of Jews. That means Sean Spicer has to go. He has to be fired. And here’s why, Amy. Either Sean Spicer’s comments were a matter of ignorance, incompetence or prejudice—or all three or any combination thereof. That doesn’t make one fit to be press secretary. In fact, that doesn’t make one fit to serve in government whatsoever. Sean Spicer is an embarrassment to the United States of America.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, what about those who say, including a former spokesman, Ari Fleischer, that such mistakes are commonly made by people who speak extemporaneously?
STEVEN GOLDSTEIN: Oh, well, here’s the problem. That wasn’t just a mere mistake. That comes in the context of this administration’s grotesque insensitivity to Jews through anti-Semitic nonresponses. Let’s not forget that on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, this administration refused to include Jews in Holocaust remembrance. And I can’t even begin to tell you how many times this president has been offensive to other oppressed communities, including Muslims, including people of color. So, this is a pattern. This is not a mere mistake.
AMY GOODMAN: So you have Sean Spicer, who apparently apologized, called the billionaire Republican donor Sheldon Adelson. Politico reports Adelson’s office issued a statement, confirming "Sean called shortly after and said he made a terrible mistake and apologized if he was offensive." Your response to—
STEVEN GOLDSTEIN: I’m laughing, because it shows you—Sheldon Adelson is the recipient of an apology. That says it all, doesn’t it?
AMY GOODMAN: Well, explain what you mean.
STEVEN GOLDSTEIN: You know, Sheldon Adelson is a prominent Republican donor. And apologizing to a prominent Republican donor politicizes what Sean Spicer did. Sean Spicer needs to apologize to the entire Jewish community and to, frankly, all people of goodwill. And Sean Spicer really didn’t apologize, folks. As you said, Amy, when you have to pull teeth to get an apology, and it takes three attempts to pull teeth, that’s what you call an apology by committee behind the scenes. You have the White House staff looking at the public outcry, saying, "Sean, you better really clarify your apology." Couldn’t do it once. Couldn’t do it twice. Took him three times, pulling teeth. A national embarrassment.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, what about Trump’s constant refrain—just in the last 30 seconds—that his daughter is Jewish, his son-in-law is Jewish—
STEVEN GOLDSTEIN: You know what?
NERMEEN SHAIKH: —and therefore he cannot be anti-Semitic?
STEVEN GOLDSTEIN: Can I tell you something? It’s so offensive when Donald Trump trots out his daughter and his son-in-law as mere talking points. Is that what Donald Trump does in response to charges of anti-Semitism? He trots out his token relatives who are Jewish? That, in itself, is anti-Semitic.
AMY GOODMAN: Sean Spicer’s reference to "holocaust centers"?
STEVEN GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, what is a holocaust center? I mean, I’ve never heard of that. Is that a community center? That makes complete light of concentration camps. And it shows Sean Spicer’s ignorance. Has this man never heard of the phrase "concentration camp"? If he hasn’t, he’s been through some very bad education in his lifetime. And if that’s the case, he should have gotten educated before he took his job.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, before we end today’s show, on behalf of everyone at Democracy Now!, we’d like to wish Amy Goodman a very, very happy birthday.
STEVEN GOLDSTEIN: Happy birthday.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you very much, Nermeen. Thank you, Nermeen. That wasn’t part of what we were supposed to be doing right now. But I want to thank Steven Goldstein for joining us, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect. And we’ll link to our previous interview with you at democracynow.org.