Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso on Wednesday retracted a remark to lawmakers of his faction in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party that could be interpreted as a defense of Adolf Hitler’s motive for genocide during World War Two.
Tuesday’s comment by Aso, who also serves as finance minister, drew criticism from a U.S.-based Jewish group. The incident followed a rare June apology by Japan’s central bank over a board member’s praise for Hitler’s economic policies.
“It is clear from my overall remarks that I regard Hitler in extremely negative terms, and it’s clear that his motives were also wrong,” Aso said in a statement.
Aso said he wanted to stress the importance of delivering results, but not defend Hitler.
“It was inappropriate that I cited Hitler as an example and I would like to retract that.”
Aso is no stranger to gaffes, having retracted a comment in 2013 about Hitler’s rise to power that was interpreted as praising the Nazi regime.
Referring at the time to Japan’s efforts to revise its Constitution, he said the Constitution of Weimar Germany had been changed before anyone realized, and asked, “Why don’t we learn from that technique?”
On Tuesday, Aso said, “I don’t question your motives (to be a politician). But the results are important. Hitler, who killed millions of people, was no good, even if his motives were right.”
The Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center expressed “distress and disappointment” at Aso’s comment.
“This is just the latest of a troubling list of ‘misstatements’ and are downright dangerous,” the center’s head, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, said in a statement on Tuesday.
“These words damage Japan’s reputation at the very time when all Americans want to show their solidarity with Japan, our sister democracy and ally, following the missile launch from Kim Jong Un’s North Korea,” he added.
Aso’s gaffe came after U.S. President Donald Trump’s response to the racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia — blaming the conflict on “many sides” — was slammed by critics as a false moral equivalence between white supremacists and their opponents.
In June, Bank of Japan board member Yutaka Harada told a seminar Hitler’s economic policies had been “appropriate” and “wonderful” but had enabled the Nazi dictator to do “horrible” things.