An open letter about antisemitism in the birth world & Academia, and a mothers' call for peace
Dear Colleagues and friends,
At the end of 2023 you might have been asked to sign a letter titled ‘Resistance is Fertile’ a pun on the well-known phrase, "Resistance is futile". This expression was first used by the Cybermen in Doctor Who, and then by The Borg in Star Trek. Presumably the reference was used to suggest that you are facing a similar enemy, against which you must take action – alien, powerful and unnatural. An inhuman threat, such as the bogeymen cast as the ‘bad guys’ in these filmic representations.
So starts a systematic manipulation, not only of this relatively recent pop reference, but other deeply entrenched cultural tropes, which over the centuries have been used to leverage hate and suspicion about Jews. These are employed to characterise the current situation in the Middle East as a straightforward fight between good vs evil, natural vs unnatural and oppressor vs oppressed.
This is not just our opinion, but that of The Campaign Against Antisemitism who, after reviewing the letter, stated it was ‘‘grossly inflammatory and notwithstanding its platitudinous condemnation of antisemitism, in fact repeatedly draws on antisemitic tropes’. Furthermore, they concluded the content included several possible breaches of the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of antisemitism.
In the text the authors start by asserting that Israel is deliberately targeting women and children in Gaza. However, they make no reference to the military infrastructure created by Hamas in residential areas and hospitals, nor the use of human shields, which further risks civilian lives – a series of war crimes. In all urban conflicts women and children, and the most vulnerable, tragically suffer the most. We mourn the loss of life, violence and destruction of this war, and as midwives and academics, women and children are our main concern – but to imply there is a deliberate intent by Israel to target women and children is a vicious lie.
In order to further amplify this skewed narrative, the authors double-down on some historical pro-family Israeli policies suggesting they are somehow pernicious and discriminatory, creating a narrative that has unpleasant undertones of eugenics. A pro-family agenda, that might or might not be substantiated at Israel’s inception is perhaps understandable as it has always been a key Jewish cultural value and if you consider that at the time 6 million people had been exterminated, and there was a drive to create a new population to replace the ones who were lost. However, the idea that pro-family sentiment was an evil pervasive movement is a distortion, and furthermore has no relevance to today’s conflict. The authors attempt to find leverage by opening up the contentious and unresolved issue of the missing Mizrahi Jewish children from the 1950’s, which is still being investigated, as another unfortunate tactic used to create mistrust. >800,000 Mizrahi Jews were exiled from Muslim and Arab countries after modern Israel was created. In contemporary Israel there is access to reproductive medicine for all citizens, including abortion and we suggest, a more free and accessible family planning and health system available than in any of its neighbours. No doubt it is an imperfect healthcare system but the authors themselves admit ‘Palestinian citizens living in Israel’ - …are entitled to the same fertility treatments as Jewish Israelis’.
In addition, the authors evoke the most pernicious fantasy of all which has historically been leveraged against Jews: Blood Libel – the mediaeval idea that Jews murder children and use their blood in religious ceremonies. Blood libel as an idea has been perpetuated in overt and covert ways over the centuries to imply Jews carry out unnatural and sinister actions, and, as we can see here, it's still being used to generate fear about their supposed malign actions. The fantasies that are constructed in this letter play with the trope in new and extreme ways by suggesting Jews manipulate reproductive technologies for their own sinister ends, damaging and destroying babies. They even invoke a T Shirt from 20 years ago supposedly showing murderous intent towards Palestinian pregnant women, by Israeli soldiers, which as far as we can tell wasn’t actually ever produced or worn but is nevertheless cited as ‘evidence’ of malign intent. This is peak conspiracy theory, and it would be difficult to come to any other conclusion than that it is being leveraged deliberately, which is completely reprehensible.
Another concerning aspect of this letter is the dehumanisation of Jews, another historical trend, in order to justify them being targeted and victimised. Here, we see it by omission. A letter about reproductive justice, women and children makes little to no mention of the atrocities committed on October 7th, by a murderous group of men who weaponised gender-based violence as they raped, mutilated and killed women and children as well as babies, and pregnant women – a barbaric act which started the current conflict. There is conspicuous absence of this reality, with only a cursory mention or condemnation of these heinous acts and the taking of hostages. It seems incredible that a group of feminists would be happy to demonise Jews to the point that they can find a way to justify their silence about mass rape and gender-based violence.
Israel is an imperfect democracy (as they all are) with a complex fraught history. The country encompasses a diverse range of communities. It is also home to the left wing peaceful kibbutz movement, where tragically some of the worst atrocities occurred on 07/10. These communities are full of people who were building peace with their Palestinian neighbours, such as Vivian Silver, who started the Women Wage Peace movement (nominated for the 2024 Nobel Peace Prize) which brings women from all communities together to work for peace. She was brutally murdered by Hamas, her body so badly burned it took months to identify that she had died on 7th October. And yet there is no recognition of her work or that of countless others working for peace and understanding such as The Parents Circle of bereaved families, Standing Together and the Palestinian organisation Women of the Sun (also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, 2024) - both organisations nominated by Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
As well as the tropes outlined above which are specific to women, children & reproductive justice this letter typically includes a multitude of hackneyed and well rehearsed rhetoric, which would take us forever to unpack, most of which sit in what The Anti-Defamation League labels as the three D’s, where Israel is; Demonised (it’s a ‘settler, colonial, occupying, nuclear powered Apartheid regime’), Deligitimised (invoking ‘from the river to the sea’) and attacked with Double-Standards (the absence of critical thinking on the motivations of Hamas is a prime example) as well as the use of Holocaust Inversion, such as accusing Israel of enacting genocide. In this respect it’s deeply concerning that there is no admission of the genocidal intention of Hamas, stated in their 1988 Charter and their sworn intent to repeat the atrocities of 07/10 over and over.
This open letter is our way of publicly refuting and challenging the assumptions and false narratives of this particular letter, questioning the intentions behind such an action and calling for more constructive and collaborative approaches. These kinds of letters and statements have proliferated since 07/10 bringing division, anguish and rupture when, what anyone who is serious about trying to improve the situation for women and babies in the region should be doing is seeking long lasting peace, understanding and a coalition between divided communities.
We can only conclude that those who put this letter together are driven by a nasty form of prejudice and bias, and that they actually seek division.
We don’t think everyone who has signed it is necessarily antisemitic, and as a colleague said to one of us when questioned why she’d signed it, many probably haven’t read it properly or realise its intent. Others have described being coerced and shamed into signing it. However, some who have remained steadfast have said they mean no harm to us personally. Regretfully, we suggest, supporting a letter that pedals racial stereotypes and conspiracy theories against Jews, is by extension causing harm to all Jews, us included - and therefore all other Jewish colleagues, and those you might care for as a healthcare professional or academic.
We hope this critique reveals how distorted and dangerous this letter is, as well as questions the rationale for putting it together. We totally condemn the overt racism and division it fosters: in order to be truly anti-racist, one needs to be anti-antisemitism too.
We hope that together we can seek constructive, peace-building actions — rather than divisive moves that demonise one population for the purported benefit of another — such as joining the Together for Humanity movement in the UK, which is calling for a Building Bridges Day of community action on 21st January. Another key action would be to support the Mothers’ Call created by Israeli and Palestinian women (which anyone can sign) — a petition organised by Women Wage Peace, which calls for a comprehensive peace process that includes women from all communities — ‘We call on the women of the world to stand by us for a future of peace and security, prosperity, dignity and freedom for ourselves, our children, and the people of the region.’
Yours, in peace.
Professor Anna Furse, Emeritus, Writer and Theatre Director, Goldsmiths, University of London.
Betsy Dwek, Student Midwife .
Jessica Falk Perlman, Midwife.
Laura Godfrey-Isaacs, Midwife, Artist, Writer, Activist.
Dr Marisa Carnesky, Theatre Director & Academic, Rose Bruford College.
Dr Ruth Rosengarten, Writer and Artist.
Sarah Abenson, Midwife.
Dr Sarah Lightman, Artist and Writer.
Professor Susan Collins, Emerita, Artist, Slade School of Fine Art, UCL.
Image by Laura Godfrey-Isaacs