Not a national womb – Women’s right to choose in Israel
[All links are in Hebrew]
During the past few months, due to different events, an Israeli NGO named “Efrat” has gotten some media coverage. This organization, familiar to feminists and Israeli women from their provocative adds and praying on women just out of the abortion committee*, has been connected to a recent case of a near suicide-murder: a young girl got pregnant from her 18 year old boyfriend and was apparently in touch with the organization which put enormous pressure on her not to abort. Her boyfriend, obviously extremely distressed, planned on killing her and committing suicide, or they both planned on committing suicide. Anyway at the end police forces shot the boy and killed him. The families blamed the organization for trying to convince the couple to keep the pregnancy and for cutting them off from their families, which is the organizations’ well known M.O. following this incident there have been several articles in Israeli media about this organization. As I said in the opening, it was already discussed widely on the Israeli feminist blogosphere.
What is interesting here, to me, is two things. First of all, any media coverage of this contemptible organization is a good thing. However, in the case above the media focused more on the boyfriends’ side of the story. He was the one who was shot to death, but he was definitely not the only victim. I am not in favor of measuring “who suffers more”, but the girl in this situation is obviously a victim as well. A victim of this organization who prays on girls such as her and feeds them misinformation about pregnancy and abortion masked as “helping her choose”, and a victim of a society which does not provide enough objective, useful and open sexuality and birth control education. Sadly, these two forces, “Efrat” and patriarchy, are likely to keep on doing their thing despite this incident.
The second thing is the guise under which “Efrat” works. Some people believe that this organization is meant to help women who decided not to abort despite financial or other hardship. This is not true, as can be seen in the organizations website. Their aim is to “encourage Jewish child birth”, not to help women chose. The organization was founded by a holocaust survivor who sought to “bring back” the 6 million victims of the Nazis. (puke).
While I do not oppose their right to campaign for more Jewish children in the world, it is hard not to puke a little bit when you realize that these people see you as a Jewish womb. Very similar to the “pro-life” movement in the US, these anti-abortion groups more often than not have nothing to do with women’s well-being, with educated, free choice or with having a healthy family. They just want to control your womb. What’s wrong with that, might you ask? It’s wrong because it essentializes women to their biological traits, because it dehumanizes women, and because it is MY womb.
Many people I have talked to about issues of feminism like to say that at least in Israel the situation regarding abortions is not as bad as in the states. Again, I don’t think its right to compare: the U.S is huge and getting an abortion in Texas is very different from getting an abortion in New York. Israel is small and most women have access to the three centers in which the abortion committee is located, so in this sense it can be seen as “easier”.
But the dark forces of patriarchy at work here as well, and they carry national and religious baggage. Israeli women are supposed to contribute their wombs and bodies to the effort of state-building and for the sake of the Jewish people’s survival (but they are not allowed to sit in parliament, according to religious parties). This connection between nationalism and the female body is not new and is universal (China has some interesting examples I am planning to write about soon). However, “Efrat” really makes me sick by using this holocaust referencing in trying to maintain their control over women. Don’t kid yourself; this is really what they’re all about.
*according to Israeli law, in order to get an abortion you must get the approval of a committee composed of a social worker, obgyn, psychologist and…rabbi. True story. Good news is most appeals (around 92%) are approved.