In her book "Denying the Holocaust, the Growing Assault on Truth and Memory" - the one that sparked her famous trial with Holocaust denier David Irving, now featured in the Hollywood film Denial - historian Deborah Lipstadt cites a “Yes, but” attitude of some historians towards the Holocaust. “It is a response that falls into the gray area between outright denial and relativism,” she writes. “It is the equivalent of David Duke without robes.”
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The Trump administration’s lame excuse for not mentioning Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day on Friday falls into the category of “Yes, but” excuses, but only if one wants to be generous. By less forgiving accounts, the White House is engaged in full-throttle denial of the Holocaust, which includes denying the centrality of Jews. Yes, six million Jews died, but so did many others, according to spokesperson Hope Hicks. “We took into account all of those who suffered,” she told CNN. “We are an incredibly inclusive group.”
Never mind that for the administration to claim it is “incredibly inclusive” on a day that it takes drastic new measures against Muslim refugees and immigrants shows a stupendous lack in self-perception. “Incredibly inclusive,” by the administration’s standards, apparently means blotting out the unique Jewish nature of the Holocaust and of the Final Solution. Even the United Nations, which established the January 27 International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Resolution 60/7 on November 1, 2005 – at the instigation of the Israeli government, among others – was less stingy than the Trump administration. “Reaffirming that the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people, along with countless members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice” the resolution states. By Trump’s standards, the UN is apparently too focused on Jews. It’s not “incredibly inclusive” enough.
But forget the UN. How about just looking up the term “Holocaust” in Wikipedia? ”The Holocaust also known as the Shoah was a genocide in which Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany and its collaborators killed about six million Jews. Some definitions of the Holocaust include the additional five million non-Jewish victims of Nazi mass murders, bringing the total to about 11 million.” Some definitions include the others, but none exclude the Jews - except for the one now being disseminated by the Trump administration.
The benign explanation for the administration’s “puzzling and troubling” failure to mention Jews in its original Remembrance Day statement, as ADL National Chairman Jonathan Greenblatt noted, together with Hicks’ insistence that it’s the right thing to do is a. The result of plain ignorance b. Testament to the fact that Trump’s people don’t do their homework c. Further evidence, not that any is needed, that, caught making a mistake, Trump will always double down rather than back down and d. Proof that in doing so, he makes things much worse. It’s only a matter of time before Trump blithely accuses the lyin’ media of overhyping the centrality of the Jews in the Holocaust because they’re out to get him.
The more sinister explanation, on the other hand, is that the original Holocaust Day omission and Hicks’ subsequent clarifications were no mistakes at all. Incredible as it may sound – though no less incredible than other steps and statements made during the past week - the Trump White House is engaging in “Yes, but” relativism which, in many eyes, is to flirt with outright Holocaust denial. It certainly comes perilously close to the form of Holocaust denial outlined by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum by which “the Nazis had no official policy or intention to exterminate the Jews."
But there’s also a far more disturbing and sinister explanation. The Holocaust Day incident connects far too many troubling dots, from Trump’s reluctance to disown Holocaust-denier David Duke during the campaign; his mutual admiration society with Patrick Buchanan, who has questioned key historical elements connected to the extermination of Jews; the connection between White House adviser Stephen Bannon and the alt-right movement, which encompasses a stream of white racists who espouse Holocaust denial; Trump’s insistence on using the loaded slogan of America First, which served supporters of Adolf Hitler and opponents of US intervention in the war against him; and Trump’s repeated reluctance to take Jewish protests and sensitivities into account.
Trump’s dismissal of Jewish concerns was already on display last July, when his campaign featured a poster that showed Clinton, piles of dollars and a six-pointed star that Jews said was the Star of David and Trump insisted could also be a sheriff’s star. No less troubling than the original intent behind the poster was Trump’s refusal to consider the perception among Jews that it was anti-Semitic. Many Jews were similarly outraged by the White House’s omission of Jews from its Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, but that made no impression on Trump either: He sent out Hicks to intimate that Jews are parochial exclusionists while the new president is “incredibly inclusive”.
One truly wonders just how long right-wing Jewish supporters of Trump – including his chief cheerleader Benjamin Netanyahu - will look the other way as their preferred president not only tramples American values, as he did in his ban on Syrian refugees and Muslim immigration, but insults Jewish sensitivities and desecrates the memory of the Holocaust. One can’t start to imagine the howls of outrage that the right would have generated had Barack Obama “forgotten” the Jews on Holocaust Day and then covered up his mistake by claiming, in effect, that Jews have no special claim on their own catastrophe. Every day that goes by, Jewish supporters of Trump risk being cast as cowards and hypocrites who sold out their people’s honor in order to preserve their own. Just like Trump himself.