An open letter about antisemitism in the birth world
Dear Colleagues and friends,
Before Christmas 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 – alien, powerful and unnatural. An inhuman threat, such as the bogeymen cast as the ‘bad guys’ in these filmic representations, against which you must take action.
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 Israel and Gaza as a straightforward fight between good vs evil, natural vs unnatural and oppressor vs oppressed.
The letter was put together (as far as I can tell), as they do not reveal themselves, which in itself is sinister, by a group of White (progressive) feminists from Holland. Something I find particularly egregious since the country has the unfortunate accolade of deporting the most Jews of their population in Europe to be exterminated in WW11, (including some of my own relatives), and the site of Anne Frank’s incarceration, where she wrote her famous diary before being betrayed and then murdered in Auschwitz. It has therefore been generated from a country that has an appalling legacy towards its Jewish population. Shameful therefore that they should seek to incite hate against Jews now.
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. I mourn the loss of life, violence and destruction of this war, and as a midwife women and children are my 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 bizarre 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 from a European Jewish perspective, if you consider that 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. In contemporary Israel there is access to reproductive medicine for all, including abortion and certainly a more free and accessible family planning and health system than in any of its neighbours.
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, therefore damaging and destroying babies. This is peak conspiracy theory, and I believe 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 and women and children makes no mention of the atrocities committed against women and girls 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 no mention or condemnation of these heinous acts or 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. This is deranged.
Israel is an imperfect democracy (as they all are) with a fraught complex history. The country encompasses a huge range of people; Christians, Druze, Bedouin, Arabs and Jews (over half of whom are Mizrahi, originating from Arab countries). 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 (now nominated for the 2024 Nobel Peace Prize) which brought women from all communities together to call 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 Palestinian organisation Women of the Sun, and multiethnic The Parents Circle of bereaved families.
As well as the tropes outlined above which are specific to women, children & reproductive justice this letter typically includes hackneyed and well rehearsed rhetoric, which The Anti-Demamation League labels as the three D’s, where Israel is; Demonised (it’s a ‘settler colonial state’), Deligitamised (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. Ironic that there is no admission of the genocidal intention of Hamas who include the missive to ‘kill all jews’ in their original charter, and have sworn to repeat the atrocities of 07/10 over and over.
This open letter is my way of publicly refuting and challenging the assumptions and false narratives of that 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 to the birth world, 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.
I can only conclude that those who put this letter together are driven by a nasty form of antisemitism, and that they actually seek division. I don’t think everyone who has signed it is necessarily antisemitic, and as a colleague said to me when I 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 me no harm personally. Regretfully, I suggest, supporting a letter that pedals racial stereotypes and conspiracy theories against Jews, is by extension causing harm to all Jews, me included - and therefore all your other Jewish colleagues and those you care for as a healthcare professional or academic.
I hope my critique reveals how distorted and dangerous this letter is, as well as questions the rationale for putting it together. I totally condemn the overt racism and division it fosters. I hope together we can seek constructive peace-building actions, rather than divisive moves that demonise one population for the supposed benefit of another.
Yours, in peace and solidarity,
Laura Godfrey-Isaacs, midwife, artist, writer, birth activist, Jewish Mother.