On Monday afternoon, Whoopi Goldberg said something so unfathomably stupid about Jews and the Holocaust, it makes the mind reel.

In a discussion on the ABC show The View about a Tennessee school district’s recent decision to remove from its curriculum the graphic novel Maus, which is about the Holocaust, Goldberg said that the Nazis’ murder of six million Jews was “not about race.”

According to the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony (EGOT)-winning comedian and actress, “These are two white groups of people. This is white people doing it to white people, so y’all going to fight amongst yourselves.”

There is some rather stupefying irony in the fact that Goldberg and her fellow co-hosts were discussing Maus because this is the epigraph of the book: “‘The Jews are undoubtedly a race, but they are not human’ – Adolf Hitler.”

Jews will argue amongst themselves about whether they are a race, but to antisemites there isn’t much question.

In the wake of her comments and a disastrous follow-up interview on Stephen Colbert’s show in which Goldberg focused on how the controversy had damaged her, there are the predictable calls for her to be fired from The View.

But rather than cancel Goldberg, perhaps it would be better to educate her.

First, we could start with the fact that the Holocaust was not a fight between “two groups of white people.” Most (but hardly all) European Jews have “white” skin, but the Nazis certainly did not consider Jews to be white. The Nazis believed instead that Jews despoiled the Aryan race.

It’s why they enacted the Nuremberg Laws to separate Jews and non-Jews and encouraged Jews to emigrate to Palestine. It’s why they eventually rounded up Jews and sent them to concentration camps. And it’s why in 1942 they decided on a “Final Solution” to the Jewish problem—the systematic extermination of European Jewry that took the lives of six million people.

It also happens to be why they killed the descendants of Jews who had converted to Christianity. For the Nazis, even the slightest hint of Jewish blood was grounds for elimination.

If Goldberg needed a more recent example of how Nazis view Jews, she could look to the rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 in which white supremacists marched through the streets chanting “Jews will not replace us.” Race is a social construct—and of course, so too is whiteness. And these constructs have consistently and ostentatiously excluded Jews.

Second, Goldberg’s words are emblematic of a frustrating misnomer about Jews—that somehow our white skin cossets and privileges us.

In America, the fact that Jews are considered white may provide us certain social and cultural benefits vis-a-vis people of color. But the Jewish experience in America is not the norm for Diaspora Jews and, increasingly, we are under assault from antisemitic violence. Jews represent 2 percent of the American population, yet we’re the victims of what the FBI classifies as nearly 60 percent of all religious-based hate crimes. Last month a man held worshippers in a Texas synagogue hostage. This weekend in Orlando, Florida, two dozen neo-Nazis stomped on Israeli flags, shouted antisemitic slurs, and gave Heil Hitler salutes—and the state’s Republican governor has thus far refused to condemn it.

As a Jew I consider myself “off-white,” which means I enjoy many of the benefits of white skin but, in the hierarchy of American whiteness, I’m far closer to the bottom than the top.

Indeed, one of the ironies of the Jewish experience in pre-Nazi Germany is that many German Jews believed if they assimilated themselves into German society they would be protected against antisemitic violence.

Lastly, unstated in Goldberg’s remarks is a view of Jews that sees us first and foremost as a religious group. If you ask 10 Jews how we define ourselves you’d likely get 11 answers. But many Jews, particularly those who are not religiously observant, would use the term Am Yisreal, which means the people of Israel, or the Jewish people, and a nation among all other nations.

Enemies of the Jewish people don’t make these types of distinctions. The fact that my father would only step foot in a synagogue under threat of coercion or that my grandfather taught himself Greek so he could read the Septuagint (one of the earliest translations of the Hebrew Bible) would have made no difference to the Nazis. They still would have sent both of them to the gas chamber.

So should Goldberg be fired for saying something so idiotic and insensitive?

I might argue in favor of that if she was the exception to the rule. But lack of knowledge about the Holocaust and about the Jewish people is a society-wide problem. It’s shockingly prevalent even among celebrity artists like Goldberg, who has in the past has—and I kid you not—defined herself as a “Jewish American princess.”

These kinds of mistakes are made on a routine basis and often by people, including cultural icons like Goldberg, who should know better.

Frankly, it would be better if Goldberg spent some time educating herself on these issues—and using the forum of The View to educate her viewers. Indeed, today, the show admirably brought on Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, to explain, in part, what Goldberg got wrong.

Firing Goldberg would provide her critics with a momentary whiff of moral superiority, but it would do nothing to help American Jews or enlighten those whose views of Jews, like Goldberg’s, are shrouded in misinformation.

The response to stupidity does not always need to be cancellation—sometimes it can and should be education.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.