September 23, 2018

Trump’s Holocaust denial, or Bannon’s?

All week I’ve been asking myself this question: Does the Trump administration’s refusal to acknowledge that Jews were the victims of the Nazi Holocaust say something about the psychology of Donald Trump, or about the ideology of his chief strategist, Steve Bannon?

After all, if something happens once, it’s a mistake. If it happens twice, it’s either a problem — or a plan.

First, the facts: On Jan. 20, 1942, the senior leaders of the Nazi regime gathered by a beautiful lake in Wannsee outside Berlin and affirmed the Final Solution against the Jewish people.   You can go there and stand in the room where it happened. You can read the documents with their signatures. I did.

Yes, the Nazis killed many people and groups of people, among them Romani, the disabled, homosexuals and Poles. But the Holocaust was conceived, planned and executed to wipe out one people — the Jews. The Germans have said this. Our new president will not.

When Trump’s speech neglected to mention the Jews, Jewish groups from across the political spectrum expressed concern and asked politely for a correction. Notably those groups included Trump allies and friends.

“The lack of a direct statement about the suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust was an unfortunate omission,” a spokesman for the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) wrote in a statement. “We hope, going forward, he conveys those feelings when speaking about the Holocaust.”

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and a longtime Trump supporter, called on Trump to “rectify this painful omission.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles politely asked that the administration “update” its statement to include the fact that the Holocaust was designed to exterminate one people, the Jews.

All Trump had to do was issue a correction, or an “update.” That would have pleased the critics, and assuaged his friends. Instead, the administration doubled down on what is essentially a lie of omission.

At a later press conference, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said the groups that complained about the omission of Jews from the Holocaust were “nitpicking.”

“It is pathetic that people are picking on a statement,” he said.

This wasn’t just a slap at Trump’s many critics in the Jewish community, this was a middle finger to his few friends.

The ZOA’s Mort Klein heralded Trump’s election as a boon to Israel and the Jewish people, doing so even before the Republican Jewish Coalition swung on board. The RJC did eventually support Trump. And Simon Wiesenthal Center founder Rabbi Marvin Hier delivered a benediction at Trump’s inauguration, enduring sharp criticism in doing so.

But even for them, Trump wouldn’t budge. Not even on an issue of clear historical fact, a history that Hier has devoted his entire being to memorializing.

Then again, that might not be Trump, but Bannon.

But Trump wouldn’t budge. Not even on an issue of clear historical fact, a history that Rabbi Hier has devoted his entire being to memorializing.

Bannon headed the rebirth of the web site breitbart.com into what he described as, “a platform for the alt-right,” the neo-Nazi retreads who sport frog pins and Twitter handles like, “Chuck U Shumer.”

On Breitbart, the Holocaust controversy played out like one long dog whistle to the comments section. A few self-described Jewish supporters excused Trump because, well, boo Obama, and anyway the new president has Jewish relatives.

But for the masses, it was all Jew-bashing, all the time. It has long been the aim of European nationalists and the alt-right here to downplay the extent to which Jews were targeted, to de-Judaize the Holocaust. Trump’s statement played into that. But it was his refusal to correct or apologize that really energized the haters.

“Um the Marxists deserved to go to the camps,” commented Chuck U Shumer.

spd1275 wrote: “Too bad Hitler didn’t round up Democrats as well…”

“I bet that people who blame Trump are anti-Semites although they call themselves ADL and Zionist Organization [of America],” wrote Felix_the_cat.

“Don’t forget the REAL holocaust was 40,000,000 Orthodox Christians sent off to the gulags by the Bolshevikim in 1917, 100 years ago today,” Anteater wrote. “’The Chosen, as they called themselves … emigrated to Israel to start spreading hate and race war all over again. And then they came for me.”

It goes on and on, page after page.

What this episode says about Trump is clear. Here is a man who is willing to throw his friends under the bus without a second thought. Corner him, challenge him or even mildly correct him, and he will paint you as “pathetic” in the eyes of his real supporters.

What it says about Bannon is more disturbing. As the former head of Breitbart, he knew exactly how this controversy would land among Trump’s diehard fans on the alt-right.

“Remember Stephen Bannon’s words,” a Breitbart commenter named “Jobu” wrote to defend Spicer’s comments. “Stay vigilant and keep energized. The whole planet of globalists is at war trying to take this country and our President down.”

Maybe Trump just doesn’t do I’m sorry, but next year he’ll correct his mistakes. Maybe Trump’s Jewish supporters will forgive a bit of alt-right red meat as long as their guy comes through for Israel.

But last week is the clearest evidence we have yet that when Steve Bannon’s ideology meets Donald Trump’s psychology, terrible things can happen.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.