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What Whoopi Goldberg got wrong about the Holocaust

Whoopi Goldberg was wrong about the Holocaust, But, the story is bigger than that.

FILE - Whoopi Goldberg speaks during the Broadway at the White House event in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. Goldberg has apologized in a tweet Monday, Jan. 31, 2022, for saying the Holocaust was not about race. Her initial comments Monday morning on ABC’s ‘’The View

(RNS) — Just so you know: This is what Jews have been enduring, almost since the end of the siege in Colleysville, Texas:

  • A school board in Tennessee has pulled “Maus,” Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel about the Holocaust, from its school reading list. (If I didn’t know better, I would suspect that Art orchestrated this whole thing, just to push sales of his classic work!)
  • There were swastikas on pillars at Union Station in Washington, D.C.
  • There were antisemitic flyers in Surfside and Miami Beach, Florida, claiming Jewish connections to COVID-19.
  • Neo-Nazis marched in Orlando, Florida — a march which Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has refused to condemn.
  • Amnesty International branded Israel an apartheid state.

These attacks on Jewish sensitivities and sensibilities have been happening on almost a daily basis.

Oh — and, on “The View,” Whoopi Goldberg made foolish remarks about the Holocaust.

“The Holocaust isn’t about race … it’s about man’s inhumanity to man.” For Whoopi, the Holocaust was about “two white groups of people.”

Later, she tweeted an apology, admitting that she “misspoke.”

On today’s show, I said the Holocaust ‘is not about race, but about man’s inhumanity to man.’ I should have said it is about both. As Jonathan Greenblatt from the Anti-Defamation League shared, ‘The Holocaust was about the Nazi’s systematic annihilation of the Jewish people — who they deemed to be an inferior race.’ I stand corrected.

And yet, on “The Late Show” with Stephen Colbert, Whoopi doubled down.

I feel, being Black, when we talk about race, it’s a very different thing to me. … So I said I thought the Holocaust wasn’t about race. And people got very angry and still are angry. But I thought it was a salient discussion because as a Black person I think of race as being something that I can see…When you talk about being a racist, you can’t call this [the Holocaust] racism. This was evil. This wasn’t based on skin. You couldn’t tell who was Jewish. You had to delve deeply and figure it out.

ABC has suspended Whoopi from “The View” for two weeks. ABC News President Kim Goodwin said: “While Whoopi has apologized, I’ve asked her to take time to reflect and learn about the impact of her comments. The entire ABC News organization stands in solidarity with our Jewish colleagues, friends, family and communities.”

First, let’s deal with ABC’s suspension of Whoopi Goldberg.

I understand why it happened. ABC was correctly responding — not only to Whoopi, and probably not even particularly to Whoopi — but to the spate of antisemitic incidents in this country. Some critics, like Joel Pollak, a conservative pundit, thinks that it is a distraction from the real antisemitism in this country, calling ABC’s move “virtue signaling.”

If that is the case, then it would be a relatively new and different form of “virtue signaling” — one that takes Jewish sensibilities into account.

Nevertheless, I am opposed to ABC’s suspension. Whoopi made an intellectual error. Her remarks were misguided, but they were not hateful, nor hate-filled.

For here is the problem, and now Whoopi understands it. We have become an unforgiving culture, in which anything you say has a half life that a piece of carbon would envy. Whoopi made a mistake. She owned up to it. Our culture should be resilient enough to say, “OK, enough, Let’s move on.”

That culture includes Jews. It is both useless and counterproductive to turn Whoopi from a misinformed friend into a misinformed enemy.

Because, can I say this? Whoopi is an entertainer. She, and her colleagues, never signed up to being Holocaust historians, or moral philosophers, or whatever.

One of these days, we will get over our infatuation with celebrities and recognize them for what they do — which is to entertain.

Second, this is what Whoopi initially got wrong, and which she now understands a little better.

The Holocaust was about race — and this is crucial — but, “race” as the Nazis defined it.

Let me say it one more time, for those of you who have not been listening.

The Jews are not a race, though it was once fashionable for Jews, philosemites and antisemites to think so. Any visit to Israel would dispel that notion. Actually, you don’t need a twelve hour plane flight to learn that. Go into any synagogue, and you will see Jews of all colors and races. Come to my religious school. Look at how the students look. Jews are not a race. 

But, the Nazis thought that Jews constituted a race, and they applied the most sadistic version of pseudo-science to that definition. Tragically, horrifically: they got that idea from some American thinkers, who had created their own version of race science, which considered Anglo-Saxons and Nordics to be socially superior — as in, the (now missed and lamented, by some) WASP hegemony over American social structures.

The Holocaust was about race — the Jewish race, as the Nazis defined it.

And, no, Whoopi — not all Jews are white, even visually.

(But, then again, that gets into this whole visual thing about race. Is it just about skin tone, and other physical characteristics? Or is it about self-definition, and how others define you?)

And, yes, Whoopi — non-white Jews also died in the Holocaust. Like Jews from north Africa, for example.

There is something else that Whoopi got wrong — that the Holocaust was simply about “two white groups of people.” 

That statement was dismissive and cruel in its disrespect to the victims of the Holocaust. 

Finally, there was Whoopi’s assertion that the Holocaust was about “man’s inhumanity to man.”

No. I am not buying that, and I invite you not to buy that, either. To subsume the Holocaust into a pile of other hateful episodes in human history is, in and of itself, a grave disrespect for the victims.

I write these words as I prepare to accompany our synagogue’s teens to Washington, DC.

We will be visiting our representative’s office; the National Museum of African American History and Culture; the National Museum of the American Indian; and participating in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

This journey is a large civics lesson — showing responsibility for our nation’s governance; bearing witness to our nation’s two great sins — racism and the destruction of Native American cultures; and, remembering those who died in our nation’s defense.

And, of course, what some might call the ultimate Jewish civics lesson — a pilgrimage to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

This is what I will be telling our young people.

We sometimes use that phrase “Never again!”

I believe in “Never again!”

I also believe in “Never before!”

  • Never before had a state set out, as a matter of principle and policy, to annihilate every man, woman, and child belonging to a specific people.
  • Never before had an entire civilization conspired to kill.
  • Never before had mass killing become a matter of bureaucracy, technology, and industry.
  • Never before had a civilization killed with the wholesale involvement of its lawyers, its doctors, its business executives, its industrial leaders, its professors, its policemen, its engineers, its chemists, its railway designers, its civil servants.

I would like those points to be part of Whoopi Goldberg’s next statement about the Holocaust.