CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A video of Republican U.S. Senate candidate John Raese making an analogy between smoking regulations and the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany has gone viral, and national Jewish and Democratic groups strongly criticized the remarks.
Raese told the Gazette Thursday that he stands by the comments, saying, "I don't see anything that's incorrect in any of the statements I made. It's all very factual."
In the video, apparently recorded at a campaign event in Putnam County last week and posted on YouTube, the Morgantown businessman decries smoking regulations in his home county, saying he doesn't want government telling him what he can or cannot do.
"In Monongalia County you can't smoke a cigarette, you can't smoke a cigar, you can't do anything, and I oppose that because I believe in everybody's individual freedoms and everybody's individual rights to do what they want to do, and I'm a conservative and that's the way that goes," Raese says in the video.
Raese goes on to complain that county health department regulations require him to post stickers at entrances to his office buildings stating that smoking is prohibited.
"In Monongalia County, I have to put a huge sticker on my buildings to say, this is a smoke-free environment," he says.
"Remember Hitler used to put Star of David on everybody's lapel, remember that? Same thing," Raese continues, an apparent reference to the yellow stars that Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany.
The video was posted Thursday on political websites including Politico and the Huffington Post, drawing thousands of comments within hours of its posting on the latter site.
Among those criticizing Raese for his remarks were officials at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international human rights group named after a Holocaust survivor who spent much of his life tracking down fugitive Nazis.
"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 Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center's associate dean, and Mark Weitzman, the center's director of government affairs. "It compares signs that are meant to protect people's health with the yellow stars designed to dehumanize and degrade millions of Jews by a racist, genocidal regime."
National Jewish Democratic Council President David A. Harris said, "Comparing smoking restrictions to the Holocaust is never acceptable on any day of the year. But for West Virginia Republican Senate candidate John Raese to apparently defend those comments on Holocaust Remembrance Day takes the insensitivity and callousness of his remarks to the next level."