Sean Spicer and the Hitler Rule
JNS.org – The biggest Jewish news story during Passover this year proved a rule of political argument: whoever mentions Hitler first always loses.
I’m referring, of course, to Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary. Spicer hit a new low when he seemed to say that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad was worse than Adolf Hitler. In damning Assad for his use of chemical weapons, Spicer asserted that even Hitler “didn’t sink to using chemical weapons.”
Perhaps Spicer was thinking about the fact that the Germans didn’t employ chemical weapons when fighting Allied armies, as they had in World War I (both sides in that war used poison gas as a military weapon). But you don’t need to be a historian to know that poison gas played a prominent role in the Nazis’ war on the Jews.
After a few inadequate attempts to rationalize his statement, Spicer apologized unreservedly. The president ought to fire him for stupidity, but to those committed to all-out political warfare against Trump, Spicer’s statement couldn’t be walked back. Instead, they described it as “Holocaust denial,” if not support for Hitler (as the New York Times’ Andrew Rosenthal implied) or outright antisemitism, despite there being no reason to think that this was Spicer’s intention.
While Spicer was a fool to compare anyone, even someone as bad as Assad, to Hitler, the anti-Trump “resistance” appears to have no such compunctions about those they dislike. It’s not enough for them to disagree with Trump and his minions — or even to point out the alleged dangers of their policies. The political left has embraced White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s credo that politics is warfare, in which you should say anything to delegitimize a foe.
The Trump administration opened itself up to criticism earlier in the year when it omitted a reference to Jews in its International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, and when the president was slow to unreservedly condemn a spate of bomb threats at JCCs.
But some Jewish liberals weren’t content with blasting these blunders. Instead they claimed that Trump was responsible for inspiring the threats, and a new wave of antisemitism. But unlike the foolish Spicer, the groups that made those charges didn’t apologize when suspects in the JCC threats turned out to be a disturbed Israeli teen and a left-wing American writer. Nor have liberal pundits who compared Trump to Hitler, or called his policies fascist, issued mea culpas, let alone anything half so contrite as the apology from Spicer.
The Spicer gaffe also overshadowed a deliberate attempt to demonize Jews in an anti-Trump article just a few days earlier.
Politico, one of the most well-read and respected sources of political news, published a lengthy piece on the eve of Passover linking Chabad to a nefarious network of real estate moguls that allegedly also had connections to the Trump family, and to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The piece, titled “The Happy-Go-Lucky Jewish Group That Connects Trump and Putin,” seemed to allege that some of the activities of Chabad, whose hallmark is Jewish outreach, provided proof for the charges that Trump is in cahoots with Moscow (an argument that has less cogency now that Trump has taken on Russia over Syria).
But the story proved nothing of the sort about Chabad or Trump. Filled with errors and innuendo, the article was as much an example of “fake news” as anything cooked up by the far left or the far right. The Anti-Defamation League correctly condemned it as a “calumny” that “invoked age-old myths about the Jews.” As Bethany Mandel noted in the Federalist, “Who needs alt-right conspiracy theories about the Jews when you have Politico?”
Liberals guilty of antisemitism don’t excuse offensive conservatives. But the moral of the story is that if you complain about Jew-hatred when it can be linked to false narratives about Trump, yet don’t get worked up about what Iran or the Palestinians are saying, let alone about Politico or liberal politicians with backgrounds as apologists for antisemites — such as Keith Ellison — then maybe it’s time to question your motives.
Spicer’s blunder should teach us that the “anyone I don’t like is Hitler” approach to politics or history always fails. Unfortunately, many of his liberal critics need to learn the same lesson.
Jonathan S. Tobin is opinion editor of JNS.org and a contributing writer at National Review. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.