She did it again

Rabbi Dr Andrea Zanardo, PhD
5 min readDec 31, 2022

And.. she did it again. Whoopi Goldberg, the non-Jewisn actress who changed her family name at the beginning of her career -many years ago- into a Jewish-sounding one.

She never said why, but we often hear that a Jewish family name helps you find a job in the movie industry. We know who runs Hollywood, don’t we… Mrs Goldberg certainly does.

Anyway, a few days ago, Mrs Goldberg gave an interview to the Sunday Times and said (I am quoting), “the Holocaust was not about race”. because Jews can pass as white. It is so crass, A minimisation of the most horrendous crime ever perpetrated in human history.

She believes that people with darker skin suffer more than the Jews during the Holocaust. And that today’s Jews -that is, you and I- benefit from a victimhood status which we have somehow stolen from the real victims, the real oppressed, those with a darker complexion. This is the nonsense known as the “theory of oppression”. Popular stuff nowadays.

In other words, according to Mrs Goldberg -and the increasing number of people who agree with her- Jewish victimhood is a privilege. She really believes in this stuff. She is on record for spelling the same nonsense during a TV show last February. After which she apologised. And, of course, she has apologised now also. She said that she did not want to cause pain, that she condemns every act of antisemitism, that she has spoken with Rabbis, that she has many Jewish friends, etc…

All familiar blah blah blah. I do not doubt that the Guardian or similar news outlets will find some Jew ready to forgive Mrs Goldberg another time and to move on quickly toward the next exploit. We tend to be lenient when minorities express anti-Jewish hostility. We quickly forgive antisemites who are not White and not Christians. And we are wrong.

Do you want to know how antisemitism develops and why? Look no further than this week’s Torah portion towards the end. (Gen 47:11ff) The story of Joseph is a historical archetype.

Joseph works for Pharao. He is an excellent and skilled administrator. While famine infuriates the land, Joseph -who has stored food during the years of plenty- is able not only to sustain himself and his family. He can also sell bread to the peasants, who are starving, And when they have no money, Joseph gives them bread in exchange for their land; in this way, he purchases an enormous amount of fertile land on account of Pharao. His boss Pharao will emerge from the pandemic richer and more powerful than he was.

Very important: Joseph does not benefit from the transaction. He is merely doing his work. Pharao benefits.

Storage of crops under the guidance of Joseph. Sarajevo Haggadah, 1350.

In a couple of weeks, when we’ll read the opening of the book of Exodus, we will read what happened after the death of Pharao, A new king came unto power, and this news king did not know Joseph’s story; he probably was not interested at all. As a result, hostility against Joseph and his people increased. The new Pharao suddenly realised that there are too many Jews in his kingdom in positions of privilege. And so, to please the masses, he promulgates the first series of antisemitic legislation known in human history. He imposed forced labour on the Jews, “embitter their life”. As we know -because we read the story on Pesach- this State-sponsored antisemitic violence will increase to the extreme. Even having Jeiwsh (male) children will be harshly forbidden. Jewish children murdered at birth: welcome to Pharao-run Egypt.

If you have done your history homework, you recognise a pattern of European medieval history in this Biblical passage. The rulers invited Jews to settle in this town or kingdom. That is because Jews were skilled and literate. Medieval nobility needed someone to manage their business which at that time was not honourable to handle personally. In Eastern Europe, Jews were requested as tax collectors and to run other profitable -and taxable- businesses such as inns and pubs in villages and rural areas.

Jews could be trusted. Jews were not a threat. The popes were kings of not a tiny dominion -almost all of Central Italy. They always had a Jewish doctor. A Jew cannot kill the pope to be anointed as the pope the following day! The same happened for medieval Europan nobility. No Jew could be ennobled. Nobles could trust the Jews because the Jews had no interest in betraying their bosses. Like Joseph in Egypt, Jews in Medieval Europe were trusted because they were strangers. The situation of being an outcast turned out to be an asset.

And yet, Jewish life was not safe. When Pharaoh died, his successor who came to the throne “did not know Joseph” and his family, says the Torah. So things turned for the worse, and oppressive legislation followed in a crescendo, including genocide. All of this, mind, appeased the local peasants and the lower strata of the Egyptian population.

Here’s the thing: except for two midwives who rescued Moses, ordinary Egyptians have been -for decades- perfectly fine to live in an antisemitic society. They benefitted from the exploitation of the Jews.

Joseph’s story accurately forecasts the social dynamic of antisemitism in European and Arab Countries. Ordinary Germans did not become antisemitic because a kitschy patchwork of legends about the Aryan race suddenly became credible. The dire economic situation following WWI and the need for a scapegoat were the reasons for the popularity of Nazi antisemitism.

Very few people in Muslim Countries believe that we Jews are literally sons of apes and pigs, as it is written in an often-quoted passage of the Quran. Instead, they lead miserable life without the perspective of improvement. They look at the staggering successes of Israel and are brainwashed (with the help of the United Nations) by propaganda that tells how better they will fare once another Islamic theocracy replaces the Jewish State.

Antisemitism exists because we Jews are the ideal scapegoat for economic tensions. One can see this described in detail in this week’s Torah portion. No one challenges the oppressive rule of Pharao. But everyone accepts the antisemitic legislation and its horrible crescendo.

We should always be vigilant whenever the idea of “Jewish privilege” is evoked, just like Mrs Goldberg did — twice. Because that concept is an antisemitic expression, It is racist, like “black criminality” or “Italians’ propensity to organised crime.

In truth, we are already vigilant. We know how dangerous it is. But too often, we are too lenient when we face antisemitism from members of a community disadvantaged, marginalised, or, here’s the magic buzzword: oppressed. The word oppressed is a magic word because nowadays, everybody, even members of the Royal Family, claims to be oppressed and receives a pass to publicly spell every sort of nonsense. Such as Mrs Goldberg did — twice

I wish there were more sanity, But, as a Rabbi, I also hope that people read this week’s Torah portion. It may not have been dictated word by word by God to Moses as some Orthodox believe, But it has so much to say about our human society. So, please, have a look at it.

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Rabbi Dr Andrea Zanardo, PhD

I’m the first Rabbi ever to be called “a gangster”. Also, I am a Zionist.