WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Zionist Organization of America stood by Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who said President Barack Obama will march Israelis “to the door of the oven” as part of the Iran nuclear deal.
“The ZOA agrees with Governor Huckabee that this Iran deal could lead to a Holocaust-like massacre of the Jews,” the ZOA said in a statement. “In such circumstances, when the Jewish state is threatened with nuclear annihilation, a Holocaust analogy such as Governor Huckabee used is acceptable and not out of place.”
The former Arkansas governor has come under fire for the analogy, made in an interview this weekend with Breitbart News.
Republican candidates also addressed Huckabee’s remarks.
“The use of that kind of language is just wrong,” Jeb Bush said Monday after a town-hall-style meeting in Orlando, Florida. “This is not the way we’re going to win elections and that’s not how we’re going to solve problems. So, unfortunate remark — not quite sure why he felt compelled to say it.” Bush pointed out that he has been to Israel several times, and called the Iran nuclear agreement “a bad deal.”
Donald Trump’s special counsel Michael Cohen told CNN Monday that he does not think that his candidate finds Huckabee’s words offensive. “I think what [Huckabee is] really trying to say is we’re in a bad place,” Cohen said Monday. Trump has roundly criticized the Iran deal.
“I’m not offended by the words,” said Cohen, acknowledging that he lost family members in the Holocaust. “What I am is I’m concerned. I’m truly concerned for the safety of not just this country but the countries all around the world.”
Obama cast Huckabee’s remarks as part of a coarsening of political debate.
“The particular comments of Mr. Huckabee are, I think, part of just a general pattern that we’ve seen that is — would be considered ridiculous if it weren’t so sad.,” Obama said Monday at a press conference in Ethiopia, where he is on a visit.
Obama listed a series of recent rhetorical controversies, including Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark,. likening Secretary of State John kerry to Pontius Pilate for his role in reaching the Iran deal and Donald Trump, another GOP candidate, mocking Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for his captivity as a prisoner of war of the Vietnamese.
“We’re creating a culture that is not conducive to good policy or good politics,” Obama said.
“In 18 months, I’m turning over the keys — I want to make sure I’m turning over the keys to somebody who is serious about the serious problems the country faces and the world faces,” he said. “And that requires on both sides, Democrat and Republican, a sense of seriousness and decorum and honesty.”
Huckabee stood by his remarks.
“What’s ‘ridiculous and sad’ is that President Obama does not take Iran’s repeated threats seriously,” CNN quoted Huckabee as saying in a statement issued after Obama’s remarks. “For decades, Iranian leaders have pledged to ‘destroy,’ ‘annihilate,’ and ‘wipe Israel off the map’ with a ‘big Holocaust.’”
Jewish Democrats and the Anti-Defamation League have excoriated Huckabee for the comparison.
“Whatever one’s views of the nuclear agreement with Iran – and we have been critical of it, noting that there are serious unanswered questions that need to be addressed – comments such as those by Mike Huckabee suggesting the president is leading Israel to another Holocaust are completely out of line and unacceptable,” ADL’s national director, Jonathan Greenblatt, said in a statement.
Obama says the sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions deal reached July 14 between Iran and six major powers is the only means of keeping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Israel’s government and most Republican lawmakers say it leaves Iran poised to become a nuclear weapons threshold state.