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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