Passover is a holiday of blood and fire, of sacrifice and Exodus, of when the Jewish people sit around the dining room table to celebrate the violent triumph of our Israelite ancestors over our ancient Egyptian oppressors. Some holidays are raucous, like Purim, and some are somber, like Yom Kippur. But not Passover. This is a holiday of triumph, not forgiveness.
So one must feel, at some level, sorry for President Donald Trump’s spokesman, Sean Spicer. When Spicer made gaffe after gaffe from the White House podium about the Holocaust — and did it on the second day of Passover — he couldn’t have picked a worse time to upset American Jews.
Making Holocaust analogies in politics is a perilous business. There really is no potentially good outcome for those who are willing to drag up the darkest period in human history to justify their present actions. Yet, Spicer went there, attempting to explain that the Trump administration’s decision to bomb Syria was an act of humanitarianism.
Like many other modern politicians, Spicer chose to use the intellectual shortcut of Holocaust analogy to justify his views. And it backfired.
And then he compounded this gaffe by stating that Hitler didn’t use “gas on his own people the same way that [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad is doing.” Never mind that between 160,000 and 180,000 German Jews were killed by Hitler. One must hope that he didn’t mean that German Jews weren’t truly German.
It didn’t take long for Spicer to realize her errors and apologize for them. For this, we should be grateful. But an apology alone is not enough. Spicer needs to do more to earn back the confidence of American Jews.
If Spicer takes this window of opportunity to truly make amends, he would have done us all an unwitting favor with his gaffes. He has an opportunity to change the White House’s strange inability to continue the American tradition of respect for facts about the Holocaust. And he has an opportunity to finally put an end to the use of politically motivated Holocaust rhetoric. He should take it.
And as the Passover story has taught us, despite the Israelite triumph over Pharaoh, there are no shortcuts in getting to the Promised Land. There are no rocks to hit that will quickly renew American Jewish faith in Spicer.
If he does take this opportunity, he will be doing us all a service by leading this White House and American political discourse in a better direction. And he will have truly earned our forgiveness.
Joel Rubin is president of the Washington Strategy Group, a global government affairs advisory firm, and a former deputy assistant secretary of state and Democratic congressional primary candidate in Maryland’s 8th District.