The common confrontation between pro-life and pro-choice advocates in the United State appears to have found a new battleground in Canada, with a major Jewish organization a key player in the fray.
The battle, which provokes heated emotions from proponents on both sides, took a new turn recently when a B’nai Brith Canada official alleged that Human Life International, a right-wing, anti-abortion group, is racist and anti-Semitic.
That charge prompted Human Life to take out a half-page ad in the Feb. 28 edition of Montreal’s English-language daily, The Gazette, to deny B’nai Brith’s charges.
Then, last week, the pro-life group sought to further defend itself at a news conference, which was attended by the group’s American representatives, as well as several of its Jewish members. The rhetoric intensified when the group accused B’nai Brith, among other things, of having ties to the pornography industry.
Human Life was founded in Maryland in 1981 by the Rev. Paul Marx, a Roman Catholic priest. The Canadian branch is headquartered in Vanier, Ontario, a suburb of Ottawa.
Abortion has been legal in Canada since 1988, when Dr. Henry Morgenthaler, who performs abortions, launched a successful appeal before the Canadian Supreme Court to strike down the section of the criminal code outlawing abortions.
The Human Life ad was emblazoned with headline “Human Life International and the Jewish People.” It was signed by 44 well-known North American conservative Jews, including Midge Decter and Rabbi Daniel Lapin, the Orthodox founder of Toward Tradition, a small Seattle-based organization of conservative Jews that has aligned itself on many issues with the Christian Coalition.
“The charge is too preposterous to be given any credibility,” the ad said of B’nai Brith’s charges. “If anything, the leadership of Human Life International laments the lack of support for its cause from the Jewish community, support which Human Life International would enthusiastically welcome.”
B’nai Brith had first leveled its charges in a recent report on right-wing extremism. The report’s author, Stephen Scheinberg, the former chairman of B’nai Brith’s League for Human Rights in Canada, detailed some of the writings and activities of Human Life.
At a news conference of its own March 1, B’nai Brith Canada stood by the claims first outlined in its report.
“We must continue to criticize the writings of Paul Marx and other materials distributed by HLI which repeatedly target the religious and ethnic origins of those they see as their opponents,” said Frank Dimant, executive vice president of B’nai Brith here.
Dimant referred to an article written by Marx in 1987 called “Confessions of a Pro-Life Missionary,” in which he asked readers to “note the large number of abortionists” in the Yellow Pages “and pro-abortion medical professors who are Jewish.”
In the same article, Marx took on the man who successfully argued for the legality of abortion in Canada.
“In Canada, the leading abortion advocate and chief killer of unborn babies is Henry Morgenthaler, who claims to have been in Auschwitz,” Marx wrote.
“Although they are supremely sensitive about their own Holocaust, Austria’s Jews gave me and my colleagues no help in stopping this new holocaust,” the article said.
Dimant said his group does not take a position on the abortion issue because of its “diverse membership spanning the spectrum of political and religious ideology.”
Jews are not the only group targeted by Marx in his writings, Dimand said at the news conference. The group has scheduled a panel titled, “The Muslim Threat to the World” at its annual meeting here next month.
In an effort to counter the charges against it, Human Life issued a statement saying that Decter, a New York-based conservative thinker, had voiced “the thinking of many Jews when she points out that simply stating evidence about the activity of leading abortionists who are Jewish does not automatically render one anti-Semitic.”
AT its Feb. 28 news conference, the group called B’nai Brith’s charges “irresponsible,” “hypocritical” and “vicious.”
Also at the news conference, American author Judith Reisman contended that B’nai Brith was engaged in promoting pornography because the Anti-Defamation League in the United States had given Playboy founder Hugh Hefner an award in 1980.
“So now we’re pornographers?” said Scheinberg in response.
Calling Reisman’s charge “just stupid,” Scheinberg pointed out that the ADL does not exist in Canada.
Scheinberg, a historian, accused Human Life of dredging up the centuries-old blood libel, in which Jews were falsely accused of murdering Christian babies, by implying that the Jews are perpetrators of the worst possible modern-day holocaust.
Theresa Bell, executive director of Human Life Canada, referred all questions of a Jewish nature to either Decter or Reisman.
Bell did, however, claim that Marx’s writings had been created with the input of the group’s Jewish membership, “none of whom had any problems with what Father Marx wrote.”
Decter, a contributor to Commentary Magazine who is married to its editor, Norman Podhoretz, said in a telephone interview that Jews, precisely because they had suffered through the Holocaust, should never support abortions.
“I still maintain that the last people in the world that should be involved in abortion are Jews,” Decter said.
Regarding Bell’s insistence that Jewish members of the group had provided input for Marx’s writings, Decter said that if this were true, such Jews were “big fools and didn’t advise him very well.”
“I can’t believe they would be such idiots, and I don’t believe they were,” she said, adding, “If I had been Father Marx’s adviser, I would have told him not to put it quite that way.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.