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Raese draws criticism for Holocaust remarks

Apr. 19, 2012 @ 06:35 PM

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — An international Jewish human rights group on Thursday condemned a remark by West Virginia U.S. Senate candidate John Raese equating anti-smoking laws with the yellow star that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust.

But the Morgantown Republican said he does not care about the reaction by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and defended his statement as “reciting history.” The state Democratic Party’s chairman also criticized Raese’s comment Thursday.

A video posted Tuesday on YouTube shows Raese criticizing Monongalia County’s indoor smoking ban in front of a small group. A spokesman for Raese said the video shows remarks from his April 12 speech at the Putnam County Lincoln Day Dinner in Hurricane, W.Va.

“I have to put a huge sticker on my buildings to say this is a smoke free environment. This is brought to you by the government of Monongalia County, okay?” Raese, a business owner, says in the video. “Remember Hitler used to put a Star of David on everybody’s lapel. Remember that? Same thing.”

Raese’s remark “compares signs that are meant to protect people’s health with the yellow stars designed to dehumanize, degrade millions of Jews by a racist, genocidal regime,” center officials Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Mark Weitzman said in a statement.

“This inappropriate comparison betrays an ignorance of what really happened in Nazi Germany, and demonstrates a callousness to the millions of Jews murdered by Hitler’s Third Reich,” said Cooper, associate dean of the center, and Weitzman, its director of government affairs, in the statement.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center said it has spoken out against the manipulation and distortion of the Holocaust for political purposes in the past by the left and right.

In the video clip, Raese also compares President Franklin Roosevelt with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro while railing against the New Deal-era’s National Recovery Act. Raese on Thursday said he was giving a factual history lesson.

“What’s happening in Monongalia County, it’s very similar,” Raese said. “It’s people in government trying to micromanage.”

Raese is unopposed in the May 8 GOP primary as he seeks a rematch with Sen. Joe Manchin. A Democrat, Manchin defeated Raese by 10 percentage points in a 2010 special election that followed the death of Robert C. Byrd. The seat is up for a full, six-year term.

Manchin’s campaign did not respond to the remark Thursday, but state Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio called it “shockingly insensitive” in a Thursday statement.

“John Raese’s comments and his refusal to apologize shows no understanding of history and no respect,” Puccio said. “I feel certain that after Mr. Raese has time to think about it, he will apologize.”

Raese has become known for blunt comments during a political career that includes two runs for U.S. Senate prior to 2010 and one for governor, all unsuccessful. The 62-year-old multimillionaire is chief executive of family-founded Greer Industries, with holdings that include a radio network, a newspaper, and steel, asphalt and limestone operations.

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