A union leader apologized for likening New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to Adolf Hitler, remarks that led to a storm of condemnation by Jewish groups and political leaders.
“My comments today were inappropriate and unacceptable. I apologize to the governor and to anyone else I may have offended,” Christopher Shelton, a vice president for District 1 of the Communications Workers of America, said in a statement issued June 16.
Shelton delivered his apology within hours after a rally at the State House in Trenton in which he criticized the labor policies of two Democratic leaders, State Sen. Stephen Sweeney (Dist. 3) and Assembly member Sheila Oliver (Dist. 34), by calling them “Adolf Christie’s generals.”
Shelton greeted thousands who had gathered to protest cuts in state employees’ health-care benefits by saying “Welcome to Nazi Germany. The first thing that the Nazis and Adolf Hitler did was to go after the unions.”
Jewish leaders and elected officials were quick to denounce Shelton’s remarks.
“Invoking the Holocaust and the Nazi effort to exterminate the Jewish people is grossly offensive and has no place in civil political discourse,” said Etzion Neuer, NJ regional director for the Anti-Defamation League.
In an e-mailed statement, Neuer said Shelton displayed “an ignorance of history and an insensitivity to the tragedy in human history that saw the murder of six million Jews and millions of others.”
The NJ regional office of the Orthodox Union said in an e-mailed statement that “comparing the governor and legislative leadership to Hitler, a man guilty of genocide and leader of those who perpetrated a Holocaust, is repugnant.”
The union leader’s comments also drew strong denunciations from legislative leaders representing both parties.
Assembly Member Jon Bramnick (R-Dist. 21) called on the Communication Workers to “cut ties with Mr. Shelton and disavow his comments. To allow Mr. Shelton to continue to represent your members is an insult to the Jewish community and all those souls that suffered under Nazi rule,” he wrote in a press release.
“I’m here to support the workers,” said State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Dist. 20) at the rally, minutes after Shelton spoke. “I’m also here to denounce the comparisons between Gov. Christie and Adolf Hitler, and Steve Sweeney and the Nazis.”
In a June 20 telephone interview, Robert Master, the union’s political director, told NJ Jewish News that Shelton is “very, very sorry for having made that statement. He really understands that the analogy he made was inappropriate and hurtful, and he has withdrawn it.”
ADL’s Neuer welcomed the apology.
“We were pleased to read that Mr. Shelton subsequently apologized for his offensive statement,” he said. “We remind all public officials that regardless of the issue, we need to rise above the demeaning rhetoric and to encourage advocacy that is vigorous but never personal or hostile.”