Out of all the insults Sean Spicer delivered unto the Jewish people Tuesday — in the middle of Passover, when we’re already cranky from eating fewer carbs — somehow the call with Sheldon Adelson’s office to apologize was the worst.
It all started, as so many of these controversies do, during Spicer’s daily briefing to the White House press corps. “You have someone as despicable as Hitler,” Spicer said like a slow-moving train inexorably moving toward a collision, “who didn’t even sink to the level of using chemical weapons.”
Out of all the stupid, false things Spicer has said at that podium, starting with his first day on the job, that was likely the stupidest. MSNBC summed up the quote nicely in a chyron at the bottom of the screen by adding “(HITLER GASSED MILLIONS).”
Spicer tried to clarify at the podium, then reclarify with a statement, then another statement, then another. Eventually he admitted he screwed up, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer his remarks were “inappropriate and insensitive” and saying, “It was a mistake to do that.”
Then he spoke with a representative of Sheldon Adelson to apologize personally.
Why Adelson? The casino mogul is one of the Republican Party’s biggest moneymen. He has donated well over $100 million to conservative causes and candidates. He personally kept Newt Gingrich’s doomed 2012 presidential candidacy afloat with a single check and donated more than $21 million to support Trump’s candidacy. He’s also a fierce defender of right-wing politics in Israel.
Here is what Sheldon Adelson is not: King of the Jews.
Spicer could have chosen to call one of the organizations that fight anti-Semitism like the Anti-Defamation League, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, or the Anne Frank Center, which called for Spicer’s firing on Twitter. Instead, having insulted pretty much every Jew on the planet by forgetting that virtually all of us have family who were stripped naked and poisoned in showers filled with Zyklon B, Spicer spoke to the advisor of rich donor to say he was sorry.
The vast majority of American Jews don’t align ourselves politically with Adelson. Seventy-one percent voted for Hillary Clinton in November. And while Adelson is a major supporter of Benjamin Netanyahu, owning a paper that strongly backs the Israeli prime minister, his views are hardly representative — the opinions of American Jews vary wildly on support for Israel’s prime minister and his policies.
What Adelson does represent accurately is how the people who surround Trump perceive Jews — as deep-pocketed donors. Mention Adelson and Republicans get those dollar signs throbbing in and out of their eyes like in old cartoons.
For once in his miserable life, Sean Spicer did the right thing when he apologized and retracted his dumb statement. Then he dug himself right back into a hole with his “private conversation” with Adelson’s office. It was more than an abject appeal to a donor from the White House that was supposed to drain the swamp. It was a message to a billionaire casino mogul that he is the official head of Jews in America, as far as this White House is concerned.
More important, it was a message to American Jews that the only ones of us who matter to this White House are the ones with blank checks made out to Republican Super PACs. To be clear, Spicer absolutely should not have said what he said at the podium. But while his comment about Hitler not using chemical weapons was an idiotic gaffe – seriously, things can never end well when you are trying to make Hitler the favorable option in a comparison – I don’t believe he’s an actual Holocaust denier. There is, however, something genuinely insulting to Jews in his personal apology to Adelson when his offense was against all of us. It reinforces ugly stereotypes, and it demeans us all.