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Whoopi Goldberg jumped aboard the ‘let’s exclude the Jews’ train

Whoopi Goldberg’s comments on the Holocaust were shocking. But they are representative of a bigger pattern — progressives denying minority status to Jews
Actress Whoopi Goldberg speaks during the opening of the 'Planet or Plastic?' exhibit, Tuesday, June 4, 2019 at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Actress Whoopi Goldberg speaks during the opening of the 'Planet or Plastic?' exhibit, Tuesday, June 4, 2019 at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer). Image acquired from Times of Israel.

Whoopi Goldberg has been hit with a two-week suspension from her role as co-host on ABC’s “The View” after receiving a cascade of criticism following her remarks on the Holocaust.

During a roundtable discussion of the banning of “Maus” by a Tennessee school board, she said, “Well, this is White people doing it to White people, so y’all gonna fight amongst yourselves.” The “doing it” here refers to the systematic slaughter of Jews during the Holocaust, which, in her words, was a conflict between “two White groups of people.” 

As the conversation meandered on, with Goldberg not getting any pushback, she said, “…let’s be truthful about it because the Holocaust isn’t about race.”

Following the outrage sparked by her comments, Goldberg tweeted an apology wherein she expressed support for Jews around the world and retracted her commitment to her statements.

Whoopi Goldberg is not an antisemite or a Holocaust denier. But the views expressed in her comments reflect a bigger-picture problem concerning the perception of Jews in the eyes of some progressives: Jews are often excluded from the umbrella of protection and sympathy that progressives extend to other minorities.

As the British comedian and author David Baddiel explains in his book “Jews Don’t Count” (which is a vivid articulation of the exact issue at hand), “…the progressive consensus has failed, in a time of deep intensification of concern about discrimination faced by minorities in general, to apply that concern to Jews, and the discrimination they suffer.” 

We can consider all the nuances of the terms “race,” “ethnicity,” “ethnic minority,”  “people,” “religious minority,” (for a good discussion of this, see the Times of Israel opinion piece linked here), but what’s important to understand is that the Holocaust was an asymmetric conflict born out of an “us-vs-them” hatred. It was a conflict in which a powerful majority persecuted a weaker minority. 

And the fact that Goldberg said the Holocaust was a white-vs-white conflict makes it clear that she did not consider Jews a “real” minority. And if Jews are not a “real” minority, then the implication is that we don’t deserve the helping hand offered to other minorities. 

But why wouldn’t Jews be considered a minority? Is it because Jews have white skin? Is it because in the West, there are lots of financially successful Jews? Of course, not all Jews are white, many Jews are Mizrahi, meaning they come from Arab and North African countries, and their skin tends to be darker than that of Ashkenazi Jews. While it’s true that some Jews in the West have done well for themselves, this is certainly not the case for all of them.

Now, why are Jews considered a minority? Throughout most of their history, they have been fewer in number than the natives of the nations in which they live. And critically, they have suffered persecution in those countries because of their (religious and ethnic) minority status. This is true of the Holocaust, the Spanish Inquisition, and the countless other violent attacks carried out against Jews because they are Jews. 

To strip Jews of their minority status is to blatantly disregard history. And this is exactly what Goldberg did when she made her remarks. This exclusion of Jews is not an occurrence unique to Goldberg – read Baddiel’s book for a rich pool of examples of how some progressives exclude Jews from their special umbrella of sympathy.

Also, as objectionable as this might sound at first, to some degree, Jewish identity needs to include how we have been categorized and perceived by those who persecuted us. The Nazis saw the Jews as a race. So do the antisemitic alt-right tiki torch-brandishing attendees of the Unite the Right rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. Our sense of Jewish ethnicity and/or racial identity – as sad as this may be – is in part derived from the bad things antisemites have said and done to us. So again, to deny the ethnic/racial element of Judaism is to throw away the history books. And this is exactly what Goldberg did. 

When we look at Jewish history and the prevalence of antisemitism in the world today, there is absolutely no reason why Jews should not be considered a minority (except in tiny Israel, which has a Jewish majority). If we are indeed a minority, then why are we not offered the progressive extended hand of sympathy and help for minorities? If Jews are excluded just because they are Jews, is this not antisemitism? 

If progressives, like Whoopi Goldberg, want to truly live up to their ideals by championing persecuted minorities and fighting racial discrimination, then they’d better start considering Jews – one of the most persecuted minorities to ever walk the earth – an ethnic minority, and thus deserving of said championing. 

About the Author
Joseph Nichol moved to Israel from Canada in 2011. Currently he works as a project director for the European Desalination Society. The projects he works on focus on desalination, water treatment, and resource recovery.
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