There is an old Jewish idea that even found its place in “Fiddler on the Roof” – “God, I know we are the chosen people, but couldn’t You choose someone else for a change?”
This is a relevant thought when we read these opening chapters of the Book of Sh’mot.
The Egyptian Pharaohs had grandiose building plans and needed vast numbers of low-class workers. Were the Hebrews the only group they could have dragooned? Why didn’t some other people get chosen for the work? Couldn’t the Pharaohs have chosen someone else for a change?
The question seems light-hearted, even fun, but it’s deadly serious. Look at it from the point of view of the other groups who might have been forced into pressed labour.
Would choosing them have made the Pharaohs any better, any less villains or tyrants? Would it have been a more ethical choice if someone else had been enslaved instead of us?
That’s one aspect of the problem, and it’s not without its contemporary repercussions.
Jews are not the only people to become what Jules Isaac called “an eternal negative symbol”. If dictators had and did treat other groups with such callousness and disdain, would it have been an ethical improvement on the targeting of Jews for enmity and suffering?
The other side of the question concerns us ourselves. Targeting others for a change might have given us a modicum of relief, but it still wouldn’t have justified our suffering on so many other occasions.
The vast literature about antisemitism has no answers except to say that prejudice will only be eradicated with time and education, and from an internal Jewish angle we will continue to need our full reserves of courage, hope, faith and solidarity.