A Washington state lawmaker apologized Wednesday for wearing a yellow Star of David — a symbol forced on Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust — at a speech over the weekend to protest restrictions implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, pinned a yellow Star of David badge on his shirt during a Washingtonians for Change event in Lacey, Washington Saturday.
"In the current context, we're all Jews," Walsh wrote in a Facebook comment under video of the event.
He further explained the star is "an echo from history" and said Danish people wore yellow stars to confuse the Nazis during WWII. The tale was debunked by Snopes 21 years ago.
Miri Cypers, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League Pacific Northwest Region released a statement Wednesday condemning Walsh's actions and urging him to apologize.
"Let us be clear, Rep. Walsh’s comparisons are a gross misappropriation of history to advance an ignorant political point of 'freedom.' It is deeply offensive and discounts the painful history of marginalized communities. There is simply no comparison for the systematic murder of six million Jews and the segregation of the African American community that has lasting impacts to today."
Dee Simon, Baral Family executive director of the Seattle-based Holocaust Center for Humanity, also criticized Walsh for wearing the star.
“Our government is making an effort to protect their own citizens, not kill them,” Simon told The Seattle Times. “It not only trivializes it, it distorts history.”
In Nazi-era Germany, authorities required all Jewish people over six years old to wear the yellow Star of David bearing the word "Jew" at all times in public. The mandate was a part of a larger goal to persecute Europe's Jewish population by stigmatizing, segregating and eventually preparing them for deportation, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Walsh is not the only GOP lawmaker to misappropriate the Star of David. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, R-GA, recently apologized for comparing COVID-19 safety requirements to "a time and history where people were told to wear a gold star."
Last year, a meme comparing pandemic mask-mandates to Jewish people being forced to wear the yellow star was posted to a Facebook group belonging to a Minnesota county Republican Party.
In a Tuesday interview with the Seattle Times, Walsh said the star was given to him by an event attendee, most of whom were also wearing badges. Some of the organizers were “deeply concerned about vaccine passports and vaccine segregation,” Walsh told the newspaper.
The Washington Secretary of Health requires masks in public indoor settings for those who are unvaccinated. Vaccination is not mandated by the state, but businesses are required to verify vaccination status before lifting mask requirements for employees.
Walsh took to Facebook Wednesday to criticize the paper's coverage of his speech.
"Hyper partisans are trying to make a sign of solidarity into...something bad," he wrote.
But the Washington representative issued an apology for his actions Wednesday on the conservative talk radio host Jason Rantz's show.
"This gesture went too far,” Walsh told Rantz. “It was inappropriate and offensive. I’m terribly sorry that it happened and that I was a part of it.”
He added that he wanted to protest "the erosion of civil liberties" and the way that "small infringements" could lead to larger, "horrible outcomes."
A state representative since 2016, Walsh has often opposed the policies of Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee. He issued a statement last week against Inslee's extension of the state eviction moratorium and condemned the "Shot of a Lifetime" incentive program aimed at encouraging Washington residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: WA state rep. sorry for wearing yellow star to protest covid mandates