Beliefs Ethics Institutions Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

The blood libel against Planned Parenthood

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“Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”

Slightly more than sixty years ago, Joseph Nye Welch used those words to challenge Senator Joseph McCarthy. Welch was the chief counsel for the Army during the Army-McCarthy hearings. Those words signaled, both to the unscrupulous, Red-baiting senator, and to the nation, that Mr. Welch was fed up with McCarthy’s antics.

That was how I felt the other day. A Houston grand jury had been investigating accusations of misconduct against Planned Parenthood — the infamous videos that purported to show Planned Parenthood officials trying to illegally profit from the sale of fetal tissue.

Instead, they decided to indict David R. Daleiden, the director of the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group, and Sandra Merritt on charges of tampering with a governmental record for using fake driver’s licenses to gain access to a Planned Parenthood facility in Texas. Daleiden also faces a misdemeanor related to purchasing human organs.

“These people broke the law to spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood in order to advance their extreme anti-abortion political agenda,” Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said.

Has the Center for Medical Progress, indeed, no sense of decency?

To be clear: reasonable people can disagree on the ethics of abortion.

Not only can they — they do.

But doing so through false — grotesquely false — means certainly dampens the moral stridency of abortion opponents. You are free to be pro-life (whatever that means), but you cannot be anti-truth.

Moreover: the deliberate targeting of Planned Parenthood obscures the fact that only a tiny portion of Planned Parenthood’s budget goes towards abortion. Its main mission is to provide reproductive health services — and other kinds of health services — to women.

In short — you go after Planned Parenthood; you’re going after women’s health.

Plain and simple.

So, what do we have here? We Jews know this territory quite well. We Jews know that the first thing that haters do is they make up lies — often revolving around the harm that the Other is planning against children.

What we got here, my friends, is nothing but a good, old-fashioned blood libel.

Here is how it played out. (Trigger alert for the squeamish, and/or those who like children, or matzah, or red wine).

During the Middle Ages, anti-Semites routinely accused Jews of various crimes against society. The most prominent of these was the blood libel, in which Jews were accused of kidnapping Christian children, killing them, using their bones for Passover matzah, and their blood for wine.

(By the way, wine enthusiasts: this is precisely why the tradition arose to allow white wine at the seder. It’s not only because of a love for chardonnay or sauvignon blanc. It was because medieval Jews didn’t want any passersby to think that they were drinking, well, you know….)

Why did people think that?

Christian doctrine taught that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. It wasn’t until the Second Vatican Council of 1965 that Pope John XXIII absolved the Jews of deicide. (Many Catholic school kids in my neighborhood didn’t get the memo from the local priests; they accused me of single-handedly, and 2000 years before I was born killing Jesus.

A blood libel appears in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Sometimes, the dead children (who had always been killed by a local Christian) became venerated as saints — for the sole purpose that they were alleged victims of the hated Jews.

(Some churches in my hometown were named for those sainted victims. Sweet, huh?)

And, lest you think that the blood libel is merely a souvenir of a long-ago, outmoded medieval past, the charge popped up in modern times. It happened in Damascus in 1840. It happened in Russia, with the 1913 Mendel Beilis trial, depicted by Bernard Malamud in his novel The Fixer.

In the same year, there was the infamous Leo Frank case in Georgia, in which a Jew was accused of killing a young girl; even though the case lacked the gore of a traditional blood libel, it fits the general category. In 1927, there was a blood libel case in Massena, in upstate New York.

And in our time, the blood libel has shifted — onto the Jewish State. Arab propaganda has often accused Jews of having a taste for Arab blood. In the presence of Hillary Clinton, Suha Arafat, Yassir’s wife, falsely accused Israel of poisoning Palestinian air and water.

Just two months ago, accusations surfaced that Israelis were secretly harvesting Palestinian organs — accusations so baseless, and so evil, as to be incomprehensible to the civilized mind.

In fact, when you consider the numerous accusations against the Israel Defense Forces — accusations that would never have been made against other armies involved in defensive activities — you would be correct in assuming that, yes, the blood libel is alive and well.

So, yes — the attack on Planned Parenthood was a modern blood libel. It was a cynical lie. Its creators manufactured it for one purpose — de-funding an important, life-saving institution.

Here is the great thing, though: justice was done. The truth won.

This time. But the threats to women’s reproductive health will continue, which is why those who care must remain vigilant.



About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.


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  • I guess you live in your own little world, Doc, but we knew that.

    Congress, dominated by republicans, passed a budget which funded PP. MR. Obama signed it.

    The “truth, exposed to the entire world” is no truth at all, not in the sense you Mean it. But that’s ok, because very little that the dominionists have to say about moral matters is truth in any sense.

  • Rabbi, it’s good you wrote about the blood libel, because more people need to know about Christendom’s horrifying legacy of hate against the Jewish people. They need to know the details. They need to know truth and reality.

    But equating the Planned Parenthood situation with the horrific blood libels against Jews is at best, like comparing a puddle on the ground with a 50-foot tidal wave.

    I say at best because if you believe that midterm and late-term abortions are morally repellent, then we’re talking about a difference in kind, not degree. Put simply, Jews were and are completely innocent of any blood libel. PP may be technically innocent of the legal charge but not the moral stain of mid and late-term abortions.

  • It’s more complex than that, Ben.

    Planned Parenthood’s beginnings were rather shady, and were driven by its founder’s crackpot eugenics leanings combined with her strong belief in limiting the population of poor people, many of whom she believed to be genetically inferior. This led to aggressive marketing of PP birth control in black communities.

    Today, the overt eugenics message has been pushed to the side, but the marketing presence in inner cities remains.

    There is nothing wrong with birth control as an individual family choice, but there is plenty wrong with birth control as a deliberate policy replacement for economic growth, where the solution to poverty becomes reducing births rather than expanding opportunity.

    Abortion is of course a subject unto itself….I’m just focusing on the birth control aspect of PP and its past link to population control dogma and policy.

  • Rabbi, you certainly make some valid points, but I wish to take issue with your statement, “In short — you go after Planned Parenthood; you’re going after women’s health. Plain and simple.”

    This is true, to a point, but for someone like myself, it is analogous to the following situation: John Smith is pillar of the community donating copious amounts of time and wealth to the community soup kitchens, homeless shelters or crisis hotlines. He is held to provide the service of four or five of his peers when it comes to charitable acts. At some point, it comes to light that John Smith, roughly once every other week, sexually assaults his preteen daughter. When indicted and tried for this crime, the judge finds him guilty, but releases him with no punishment. Even worse, the judge preemptively grants Mr. Smith full custody of his daughter, extracting a promise from Mr. Smith to use a condom, “for his daughter’s safety”. He holds that incarcerating Mr. Smith would harm the community.

  • The blood libel is always good for demagoguery, fear-mongering, fundraising and dominionism.

    We gay people know it well, just we Jews know it well.

  • There they go again. 1st the Republican Party of science ignorance does not know 1st the Republican Party of science ignorance does not know the
    difference between a fetus and a baby. But fortunately the Medical
    Profession and Supreme Court do. 2nd no matter how many times
    Republican’s repeat the word baby, it does not make a fetus a baby so
    says Medical Science and the Supreme Court. 3rd, no one, including the
    Supreme Court would condone, agree, or allow the killing of a baby.
    Finally my anti science Republican friends we also know you don’t
    believe in the science of global climate change. So a word of warning
    Republican’s, please be careful today and don’t drive over the horizon
    and fall off the edge of earth. Oh and like repeating the word baby,
    repeating the Planned Parenthood lie over and over does not make it the truth, it makes you a liar.

  • Rabbi, if you’re going to accuse people of lying, please provide the evidence. How did David Daleiden allegedly lie? What were his alleged lies? What is the refutation and the evidence against these alleged lies? Unless you are prepared to provide this evidence, please do not insult your own people by comparing a murderous organization to God’s chosen ones.

  • Well said, J Russ.

    And thank you, Mr. Salkin, for the education on blood libel. Like so many other acts of the Nazis — and so many other “charismatic”, rights-attacking, dehumanizing, self-exalting militant groups, up to the present day — it’s shocking but not at all surprising.

    What disturbs me more than any other aspect is how so many self-described “good, God-fearing” religious people lap this invasive invective up as if it were the milk of human kindness.

  • Rabbi Salkin speaks the truth, Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz.

    Aim your defensive allegations at the grand jury who clearly explained why they indicted Mr. Daleiden. You’ll find your answers there.

    You’re still embracing the libelous lie that the jury saw right through. Why do you accuse a religious stranger under the light of this truth?

    As for “murderous organization”, if you don’t believe in abortion, don’t have one — and leave your equals and their equally rightful beliefs, choices, and lives alone.

  • Here’s this week’s e ample of the blood libel.

    Christian Activist Ted Shoebat: Gay Men Rape Thousands Of Boys At Southern Decadence. And murder some of them, too, according to Shoebat. Kyle Mantyla reports at Right Wing Watch:

    As Shoebat explained, a fellow anti-gay activist “went out to preach against the sodomites in New Orleans” and was told by locals “about how the sodomites in the French Quarter go out and hunt for little boys, they steal little boys and then bring them to the gay bars and they rape them and they murder them in the bars.”

    Shoebat says that he asked for evidence of this but was told by his friend that this was simply what he had heard from the locals, so Shoebat did his own investigation and claimed to have discovered that there are thousands of reports of young boys being routinely raped by gay men while the police in New Orleans simply look the other way.

    According to Alexa, Shoebat’s site gets 20K to 40K hits er week

  • Gotta love the blood libel. He not only libels gay men, he libels the police, the parents of those little boys, the families of those little boys, the teachers and school mates of those little boys, a good portion of the citizenry of New Orleans, and oh, BTW, a good portion of what passes for conservative Christianity,

  • Equating blood libel with investigative reporting seems a bit of a stretch. Several journalists, even left-leaning pro-choice ones, have expressed serious concerns that if using an assumed identity to allow infiltration of an organization to investigate wrong-doing is illegal, investigative journalism has lost one of its major methods for revealing wrongdoing. The grand jury’s decision is not really a victory for anyone. Finally, J Russ, I am a scientist, and also grandfather of a baby born after 24 weeks of gestation. Thankfully, he survived and is thriving. Yet, Planned Parenthood supports abortion of “fetuses” at 20 weeks, a time at which some could survive. The producers of the video should not have used questionable editing to make Planned Parenthood look worse. They didn’t need to. The attitudes expressed that were not exaggerated by editing were chilling and frightening. How any Jew or Christian could be supportive of this is incomprehensible to me.

  • Inhumanity beyond belief, for millennia — from those who claim to be “moral”. Makes me really want to believe in the devil. So awful to know that so many people, then and now, eagerly engage in carefully considered atrocities on their own, and call it “Good” even as they jostle each other standing in line to commit the next horror.

    Thanks for catching my earlier omission, Ben.

  • “…“fetuses” at 20 weeks, a time at which some could survive.”
    99% of Abortion removes a cluster of cells NOT a fetus.

    “The attitudes expressed that were not exaggerated by editing were chilling and frightening.”
    They were talking about biology. Women must be the ones to choose what happens to their bodies – not you and not other third parties.

    “How any Jew or Christian could be supportive of this is incomprehensible to me.”
    How can any American who believes in freedom FORCE a woman to carry a baby for 9 months if she doesn’t want it?
    Having sex is not a commitment to have a baby.

    You have no right to tell her – the law protects her!
    Because…How about your extra kidney? Shall the USA remove it against your will and give it to someone who needs it? How about your blood? Shall the GOVERNMENT show up to take your blood AGAINST YOUR WILL every few weeks?

    Right. I thought so!

  • Atheist Max, your first claim is off very nearly one quarter of a million abortions: 232,136 of them, to be more accurate. ( Only 65.8% of abortions take place before eight weeks of gestation. The rest of your claims are simply points of disagreement between those who are pro-life and those who are pro-choice.

    One thing you said that I find interesting is, “Having sex is not a commitment to have a baby.” On average, one in five sessions of unprotected sex result in the creation of life – a.k.a. “conception”. Imagine that you had the opportunity to roll a six sided die once a day for the rest of your life. You would receive, in the currency of your choice, the value of the roll multiplied by 100. Except on the result of ONE. If you were to roll a ONE, you must immediately execute your next closest genetic relative.

    How many times would you roll?

  • Can’t speak for Atheist Max, but as for myself, if I were pregnant with a 20-weeks-gestating or less fetus (just to compare apples to apples, since that’s the only valid comparison here), then I’d roll to my heart’s content.

    And it would still be none of your business.

    The idea that you would commandeer a total stranger’s body — just so you could feel good about making your equal (emphasis) live according to your own personally chosen beliefs and values — is shocking in its inherently dehumanizing inequality, trespass, and cruelty; profane in its self-exalted, self-righteous sacrilege against that stranger’s own equally cherished and inviolate beliefs and values; and utterly inhuman in its sociopathic disregard for, and megalomaniacal subjugation of, that equally rightful stranger’s personal, private, and proprietary body, life, and liberty.

  • Rabbi – not to mention, I wonder if you have heard this before: many Planned Parenthood affiliate board members, contributors, and gynecologists happen to be Jewish. Many leading pro-choice feminist theoreticians, like Gloria Steinem and Ti-Grace Atkinson, were of Jewish descent. Many pro-choice politicians like Gerald Nadler and Barbara Boxer, are Jewish. You can’t tell me the Religious Right hasn’t noticed that.

  • I have a big problem with this assertion: “…there is plenty wrong with birth control as a deliberate policy replacement for economic growth, where the solution to poverty becomes reducing births rather than expanding opportunity.” Why the heck is it “wrong”/ People have an inalienable right to determine how many children they will have if any and it is no one else’s business if they choose to have two, one, or no children. It is exactly the one thing which separated the pre-birth control world from an earlier era in which lying preachers were free to manipulate people and confuse the gullible about sex.

  • The sneering assertion there is a “moral stain” is a perfect example of why social extremism is the refuge of those seeking power and control over others. There is no moral stain whatsoever about any type of abortion ever by any reasonable measure. It is simply none of your business why or when a woman obtains one. It is her right, without qualification.

  • Oh, please, don’t go there. It is precisely because of your fictional John Smith, who is most likely a deacon or somesuch in his church, that abortion is necessary.

  • Obviously the Texas Grand Jury recognized crime where it occurred and was not swayed by yh7yperbole or maudlin appeals to sympathy.

  • I left out an all-important qualifier:

    “…if I were pregnant with a 20-weeks-gestating or less fetus…”

    should read

    “…if I were pregnant with a 20-weeks-gestating or less fetus that I intended to abort…”

    Of course, if I intended to give birth, that decision would also be mine alone; and, again, it would be none of your business.

  • But like the Holocaust, the words, “blood libel,” lose their meaning if attached to anything and everything.

    If everything is called a holocaust, the original Holocaust becomes devalued. If everything becomes a blood libel, then the original blood libel against Jews becomes similarly devalued.

  • Whenever large numbers of a group are falsely accused of killing, yes, that is an accurate use of the term, “blood libel.”

  • Most pro-choice activists are white people, but that doesn’t make pro-life activists anti-white. I suspect that most pro-choice activists also are right-handed, but that doesn’t make pro-life activists anti-right-handed.

    We are entering the land of silly…..that’s a nice way of putting it.

    A more skeptical interpretation is we are entering the land of cynical and unprincipled manipulation and marginalization.

  • As a Jew and a gay man, Jack, I use the blood libel epithet very carefully. This particular libel has been in use a long, long time, whether directed against gay men or against Jews.

    Personally, if I were a Christian, I would be outraged by the lies told on the name of Jesus. That so many so-called Christians are not outraged by it says a great deal of what this is really about.

    It is one of the reasons why I will always be respectful towards people who are believers, but I do not find what passes for so-called Christianity when it comes to the gay issue as being even remotely respectable.

    The manufacturer of this outrage, Ted Shoebat, is BatShoe crazy, but has been embraced By other so called Christians of the virulently antigay variety.

  • It is interesting to note that the bulk of commentators on this thread are men, some judicious, some pathetic in their moral bankruptcy.

  • George, what is “extremist” is the notion that abortion is fine any time, any place, and for any reason, all the way to birth. The vast majority of Americans reject and always have rejected such a barbaric position, as much as they reject the absolutism on the other extreme, which seeks the banning of all abortions at every stage without any exceptions


  • Ben, the immediate question was whether what the anti-PP filmers did was a blood libel, as the writer asserts, and the common-sense answer is of course not, based on any normal understanding of what the words, “blood libel” mean.

    You’ve now introduced a new subject — mistreatment of gays. On that score, yes, when an entire group of people is falsely accused of perpetrating violence or murder, that is of course a blood libel.

    So I agree with you there. But again, regarding the PP issue, which is totally different, I do not see anything that deserves to be called “blood libel.” I think that applying it to that is transparently absurd.

  • Unless you take the anti-scientific position that a fetus magically becomes a baby at birth and not a second earlier, then of course PP is engaged in killing. What the heck else would you call the dismemberment of literal bodies that include hearts, brains, and limbs? Auto mechanics?

    Trying even to grasp your extremist position on abortion is like trying to decipher the teachings of a mystical religious cult. There isn’t even a hint of rational thought, moral reasoning, or scientific understanding.

  • GKey, who the heck are you or any one of us to speak for all women? On the issue of abortion, women are no more pro-choice than men are, with most women as well as most men rejecting your fanatical view that abortion should be legal any time, any place, and for any reason, all the way to birth.

  • The truth is that most women want men to weigh in on abortion. Most pro-choice women want men to be pro-choice and most pro-life women want men to be pro-life.

    That’s why, although most pro-choice and pro-life activists alike are women, there are men involved on both sides, too.

  • Jack, I think you replied to the wrong commenter…

    Because I said, “Can’t speak for Atheist Max, but as for myself,…”
    And you replied, “GKey, who the heck are you or any one of us to speak for all women?”

    And because I said, “…if I were pregnant with a 20-weeks-gestating or less fetus that I intended to abort…”
    And you replied, “…your fanatical view that abortion should be legal any time, any place, and for any reason, all the way to birth.”

    I also commented that:
    “…[what I would do is] none of your business.”

    And I commented that:
    “…commandeer[ing] a total stranger’s body…”
    “…[and] making your equal (emphasis) live according to your own personally chosen beliefs…”
    “…is shocking…profane…and utterly inhuman…”

    So, as far as I can tell, we actually agree on all of the above. What do you think?

  • Jack, I don’t understand why you call my comment, in support of a woman’s right to control her own body, an “extremist position.” (I assume the remainder of your comment is founded upon those two words.)

    Regarding my position on abortion, maybe this will help:

    It’s none of your business.

    A woman’s body is hers. Not mine. Not yours. Not some religion’s. And not the government’s. A fetus may be a potential person, but a woman already is a person, with her own life to live, according to her own beliefs and values, not anyone else’s.

    Second-guessing another person’s most personal choices is nothing more than self-indulgence. Writing about one’s desire to restrict another person’s most private rights is nothing more than self-righteousness.

    But trying to elicit others’ support to commandeer another person’s most proprietary body — and most sacred personhood — is much more than self-exaltation.

    It is subjugation. It is persecution. And it is immoral.

  • For additional specifics and qualifications regarding my position on abortion, Jack, please see my response to your other reply to me, further down in this conversation.

  • Thanks for this article. I am a woman.. who was raised Catholic… who became a family practice physician and worked for a time for Planned Parenthood. I never did an abortion – our clinic just did gynecologic exams, prenatal and post natal exams and contraceptive counseling and provision. Women depended on us. When I see all these attacks against PP, actual, verbal and legal, I can’t help but think that getting rid of women’s health clinics because you disagree about one service they sometimes provide is like throwing the baby out with the bath water. As it were.