Jewish leaders applauded Gov. Paul LePage's apology for likening… (Robert F. Bukaty / Associated…)
Maine Gov. Paul LePage has learned the value of the two magic words: "I apologize."
LePage met for about 45 minutes Friday morning with Jewish community activists who wanted the governor to formally apologize for comments he made comparing the Internal Revenue Service to Nazi Germany's secret police force, the Gestapo.
After the meeting in the governor's office, LePage used his weekly radio address to say that he was wrong to use such painful imagery. "The acts of the Holocaust were nothing short of horrific. Millions of innocent people were murdered, and I apologize for my insensitivity to the word and the offense some took to my comparison of the IRS and the Gestapo," the governor said, according to the Associated Press.
Derrek L. Shulman, New England regional director of the Anti-Defamation League and one of the community leaders who met with LePage on Friday, said he appreciated the governor's decision to apologize.
"We welcome the fact that he did in fact make a public apology," Shulman told the Los Angeles Times. "He reflected on the pain that he has caused so many people, and how his earlier comments undermined civil discourse and respective dialogue."
The controversy unfolded last week when LePage criticized President Obama's healthcare law during his weekly radio address by saying: "We the people have been told there is no choice. You must buy health insurance or pay the new Gestapo -- the IRS."
An outcry ensued, with many saying LePage's remarks downplayed the horror suffered by Jews and others under the Third Reich. LePage initially refused to apologize, however, and issued a statement that critics said failed to recognize why the comments were so painful in the first place:
"Clearly, what has happened is that the use of the word 'Gestapo' has clouded my message. Obamacare is forcing the American people to buy health insurance or else pay a tax," LePage said in the statement, which triggered a second round of controversy.
Representatives from the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine, who also met with LePage on Friday, issued a statement applauding the governor's reversal. "It is clear the governor regrets the hurt his language caused," Executive Director Emily Chaleff said in the statement. "As he clearly understands, the wounds of the Holocaust have their own unique and terrible place in world history."
Shulman said he hoped that LePage -- and everyone else -- had learned a lesson from the controversy.
"There is no place in modern civil discourse for analogies to the Holocaust."
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