The anti-abortion billboards set up at Tate Plaza by The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform last week sparked heated discussions and protests. However, one element missing from the discussion was the group’s equation of abortion with genocide, and the Holocaust in particular. One billboard showed a mound of Jewish bodies overlayed by a swastika and a gold “Jude” star, a photo of lynched black men and an aborted fetus under the title “Do you justify genocide?”. Another showed a doctor and a mother under the caption “Who are the Nazis?”. While some comments have been made about the images of lynchings, campus discussion has been largely silent on CBR’s invocation of genocide.
I and many other Jewish students feel that displaying Holocaust imagery and equating abortion with genocide is at least as egregious as the graphic images of aborted fetuses. To start, it vastly exaggerates and misrepresents what abortion actually is. Unlike genocide, abortion is not fueled by hate – women choose to get abortions because they cannot take care of a child or because carrying to term would cause them harm. Unlike genocide victims, fetuses do not experience forced displacement; forced labor; and cruel, inhuman living conditions. Most importantly, abortion does not aim to erradicate a specific culture or ethnicity; abortion occurs across all demographic groups, and “fetus” is not a culture or ethnicity.
Secondly, this traumatic event in Jewish history is being used to support a cause that 83% of American Jews disagree with, according to a poll done by the Pew Research Center. The Mishnah, a collection of rabbinic commentary, permits abortion if the pregnancy imperils the woman’s life, and Conservative and Reform Judaism generally allow abortion if the pregnancy would cause any kind of emotional, psychological or physical harm to the mother.
Furthermore, for many Jewish students, the Holocaust is still a fresh wound. “Using imagery of the Holocaust including Nazi symbolism and [..] mounds of dead bodies is extremely triggering,” says Becca Wilson, a junior international affairs major. “To be bombarded by reminders of the darkest point in our people’s history in a place where we are supposed to feel safe is outrageous.” Barak Levy, a sohpomore psychology major agrees, saying, “As someone who lost over half of their family in the holocaust, [...] the fact that the holocaust is being used in this way I find offensive and distasteful.”
Levy’s testimony touches on a final and crucial point: that invoking genocide to describe abortion trivializes the horror of actual genocide. When we allow the Holocaust to be used as a token to denounce anything that is not genocide, we are complicit in an attitude that allows genocides to keep happening again and again. Since the Holocaust, major genocides have occurred in Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur and Myanmar, among others. The Jewish faith is centered around tikkun olam, or “repairing the world,” and most of us would prefer that our name be used to dismantle systems of real oppression and injustice, not to demonize women in one of the most traumatizing and difficult situations there is.