OK, OK, so Donald Trump doesn’t know how to pronounce the word Nazi.
To opponents, the president’s blooper (he rhymed it with “kamikaze”) symbolizes his administration’s inept, insidious approach to Holocaust memory. Downplaying the Holocaust, they believe, is not-so-secret code for the Administration’s hostility to Jewish concerns and a “dog whistle” to Trump’s white nationalist supporters.
The idea Trump facilitates anti-Semitism is baseless; proving it through Trump’s “Holocaust Policy” is silly. Presidents don’t stay up late plotting appropriate mechanisms to commemorate the Shoah (Hebrew for Holocaust). Most of Trump’s supposed missteps were taken by underlings – some of them Jewish – and the administration’s refusal to apologize for them stems only from Trump’s reckless refusal to apologize for anything, not some specific touchiness regarding the Holocaust.
The initial controversy arose from the White House’s Jan. 27 statement marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day (a different observance from today’s Holocaust Memorial Day – don’t ask), which was written by Jewish staffer Boris Epshteyn and made no mention of Jews or anti-Semitism.
But let’s be clear. There are different kinds of problematic Holocaust statements.
A statement that lists other victim groups, but not Jews, would be incontrovertibly offensive.
A statement that lists victim groups in an undifferentiated way, failing to point out that the six million Jews killed made up the overwhelming number of victims (the Nazis killed fewer than a quarter-million Gypsies, the second largest victim group) would be fishy. But Jewish groups and Holocaust centers do it all the time, most famously Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, who falsely suggested the Nazis killed five million non-Jewish victims because he considered the number politically advantageous.
Press secretary Sean Spicer actually followed this second approach today, defending the January statement by saying it acknowledged “all of the people — Jewish, Gypsies, priests, disabled, gays and lesbians.” We already knew Spicer was no scholar of the Shoah (he called death camps “Holocaust centers”) but here he’s just making stuff up. While about 10,000 gay men were sent to concentration camps where many died, there was no similar persecution of lesbians. And while many Christian men of the cloth (including Protestant pastors) were persecuted by the Nazis, to call the killing of priests “genocide” would eviscerate the term.
But commemorating the Holocaust without mentioning any victim groups at all is more innocuous, and hardly rare; Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued one last year. If Americans for the most part already know the Holocaust was mostly an attack on Jews – and I believe they do – then brief Holocaust statements (72 for the White House, 111 for Trudeau) need not necessarily be specific. Think about it: when memorializing the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki must one mention they were Japanese?
But fine, go ahead and fulminate over all the Trump Administration’s supposed Holocaust missteps: the January statement, Spicer’s bizarre “gassing his own people” news conference, the slogan “America First,” falsely portrayed as having anti-Semitic undertones.
Even so, when did Holocaust policy become the Jewish community’s most important priority when lobbying the federal government?
Jews have serious problems in America. Jewish college students report that anti-Israel activity on campus frequently spills over into anti-Semitic environments which make them feel unsafe. Hate crimes like the one in St. Louis where someone knocked over dozens of tombstones at a cemetery where four Benkofs are buried remain unsolved. Jewish schools do not get their fair share of government funds – even when courts have ruled it legal. Jewish prisoners in several states face challenges getting kosher food. Conditions for Jews in the armed forces who wish to practice their faith could also be improved.
And I haven’t even mentioned Israel.
Even the most friendly administration is only going to devote limited time and resources to Jewish concerns. Every speech and statement the Jewish community wins from Trump is likely one speech or statement fewer on Israel or American anti-Semitism. Certainly, a presidential nod or two to the Shoah is appropriate.
But my goodness. If I knew the Trump Administration would commit serious resources to fighting anti-Semitism on campus and facilitating the practice of Judaism by incarcerated Jews and those in uniform in exchange for eight years of silence on the Holocaust, I’d take that deal in a second.
You wouldn’t? What’s wrong with you?
David Benkof is a columnist for The Daily Caller. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) and Muckrack.com/DavidBenkof, or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.