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American evangelicals are opening a new anti-abortion front – in Israel

Miriam Genz, an advisor to the anti-abortion association Be'ad Chaim in Jerusalem, prepares bags of aid for pregnant women.  (Corinna Kern for The Washington Post)
Miriam Genz, an advisor to the anti-abortion association Be’ad Chaim in Jerusalem, prepares bags of aid for pregnant women. (Corinna Kern for The Washington Post)

Remark

JERUSALEM – In a country with some of the world’s most liberal abortion policies, groups funded by conservative American evangelicals are targeting women with a message familiar to the United States but new to most Israelis: abortion is “murder.”

The idea resonated with Shir Palla Shitrit, 21, when she first contacted Be’ad Chaim’s “pregnancy crisis center” — Hebrew for “pro-life.” In an office decorated with fetal diagrams, framed Bible passages, and a ceramic statue of a breastfeeding mother, aid workers provided her with material support and a place in a growing grassroots community for a year.

“They’re like my family,” Palla Shitrit said, standing next to a pile of donated diapers, winter baby clothes, and her monthly supermarket gift card worth about $100.

“My life was very unstable. I had no money and I thought I would be the worst mother,” she whispered as her 10-month-old Tohar fell asleep in her arms. “Now I know that this is what gives life meaning.”

Israel legalized abortion in 1977, four years after that of the US Supreme Court Roe against Wade decision. Israeli Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz further eased access to abortion this year, saying abortion has been lifted Roe women’s rights reversed “by a hundred years”.

Israel relaxes abortion law restrictions after Roe v. Wade decision

But “pregnancy crisis centers,” backed by conservative American evangelicals, are gaining prominence here, aiming to change the conversation around abortion and lay the groundwork for a political movement. Be’ad Chaim, a multimillion-dollar operation that has grown rapidly in recent years, provides women with carefully selected or completely distorted facts to defend abortion. Pamphlets in Hebrew, English, Russian and Arabic show babies being stabbed in the heart or irradiated to death, writhing in pain.

Public anti-abortion campaigns — a highway billboard showing a grainy ultrasound scan reading “This is not a fetus, it’s a girl named Nofar”; a bus ad featuring a baby girl sleeping with her doll, which read: “One day, she’ll be a famous singer” – is a growing phenomenon in a country where abortion has never been a controversial topic, said Noya Rimalt, co- director of the Forum for Gender Law and Policy at the University of Haifa.

She said that Be’ad Chaim and another group, Efrat, as well as more loosely organized anti-abortion advocates, “use stories, the images of the unborn child screaming, that come straight from the US.”

“I’ve been at it for a long time and I don’t remember those images,” Rimalt said. “This is clearly a response to the US, where these groups are getting more money and more self-confidence.”

The pregnancy centers use the language of women’s emancipation and cast Israeli men – doctors, husbands, fathers – as oppressors who pressure women to give up their babies.

“When a woman is in crisis pregnancy, people usually don’t listen to what she wants,” said Sandy Shoshani, an American Israeli who is the national director of Be’ad Chaim. On the phone while en route to a meeting with Swiss donors at the Dead Sea, she said her network spanned the globe, with Americans in the majority.

She said she hopes to convince Israelis “that abortion hurts them, and it’s not in their best interest.”

But for most in Israel, access to abortion is a rare point of consensus, even at a time of intense political polarization. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, 98 percent of women who request the procedure can get one.

Billie Schneider, 26, a New York immigrant who had an abortion in Tel Aviv two years ago, said she was “shocked at how easy it all is.” Under Israel’s universal health care system, she received the state-funded procedure within days of finding out she was pregnant.

But anti-abortion advocates feel the momentum is on their side, buoyed byRoe state bans in the United States and the results of the November 1 election here, which marked a decisive victory for former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly hailed conservative evangelicals as Israel’s “best friends.”

Horowitz’s left-wing Meretz party fell out of parliament completely, unable to muster enough votes to pass the required threshold. Leftists and moderates fear that far-right religious Zionism, now the third-largest parliamentary bloc, will one day introduce fringe ideas – such as anti-abortion opposition – into the mainstream.

Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of Religious Zionism, has tweeted that Israel’s current abortion policy “promotes a license to kill fetuses.” He vowed: “We will not forget and we will not forgive, and above all we will do everything we can … to repair the serious damage.”

Miriam Genz, a consultant at Be’ad Chaim, and one of 200 employees in the Jerusalem office, hopes abortion will one day become illegal in Israel.

For now, she said, the group relies on word of mouth and members like Palla Shitrit, who often posts a link to the Be’ad Chaim website on social media and WhatsApp groups for moms-to-be.

“I don’t think there’s a justifiable reason to have an abortion,” Genz said. “It should be viewed in the same way as when one person kills another person.”

Genz, 28, first received support from the organization after she became pregnant at age 16 while living in a hostel and estranged from her family in Jerusalem’s largest ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. She said she hopes the next government can “bring more awareness that this is not just a medical procedure, not just a bunch of cells. It’s something women regret for the rest of their lives.”

That view contradicts much of the halacha, or Jewish law, which prioritizes the mother’s physical and mental health. For the first 40 days after conception, the fetus is considered “just water,” according to a Babylonian rabbi quoted in the Talmud, the vast text that has shaped Jewish law, culture and science for centuries. According to both halacha and Israeli law, a fetus only becomes a “soul” after it is born.

In recent decades, conservative evangelicals have struggled to reconcile their opposition to abortion with their “passion for Israel,” said David Parsons, the U.S. spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, an evangelical organization that has close ties to Netanyahu and has hosted several events. organized. with Be’ad Chaim.

But Helen Lowery, a donor to Be’ad Chaim and a pastor in Houston, said American evangelicals are “starting to gain more ground” in Israel. Through an initiative called “Operation Moses,” Lowery and members of her church “sponsored” several babies, donating $1,800 per baby for the first year, she said.

Lowery spoke to The Post from her Jerusalem hotel while on a volunteer trip with other conservative Christians. One of the stops on her route was Be’ad Chaim’s “Gardens of Life,” a four-acre tract of land in the nearby town of Latrun, where visitors plant trees in commemoration of “unborn babies.”

There, Lowery said, she met and prayed with Shoshani.

“We just won a victory in our Supreme Court, toppling it Roe against Wade, and that happened through awareness,” Lowery said. “If we go back to the Torah, to the word of God, and allow both countries, the US and Israel, to rule, we will be able to further life even further.”

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