On January 27, 2017, people from all over Red State America came to Washington D.C. to affirm their opposition to abortion rights. Locally, the event is known as the “Anti-Choice March,” but nationally, it is known as the “March for Life” -- the largest anti-abortion rally in the world. It is dedicated to the proposition that all human lives matter – the born and the unborn.
I agree: all human lives matter, including our fetuses. That’s one reason we all owe a debt of gratitude to Planned Parenthood. In providing critical family planning education to needy women, it has lowered the abortion rate by reducing the unwanted-pregnancy rate. Now, after eight years of the Obama Administration, the national abortion rate is as low as it has been since Roe v. Wade.
I disagree with the March for Life participants regarding abortion rights, but I appreciate their desire to affirm the value of all human life. The pro-life cause is one conservative principle idea that needs to be treated with respect, even by those of us who view reproductive freedom as fundamental. It’s one thing to affirm a woman’s right to choose; it’s another to completely denigrate the dignity and worth of a human fetus. That’s a bridge too far for me.
So, allow me to say that I welcome to my city those who come every year on a cold winter’s Day to affirm the dignity and sanctity of all human life. What I can’t welcome was another message that was sent this past January 27th, ostensibly for the same reason: to affirm the dignity and sanctity of all human life. I’m referring to the White House’s statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
It was three simple paragraphs. The first bemoaned the “depravity and horror” that the Nazis inflicted on its victims. The second expressed gratitude for those heroes who risked everything to save innocent people. The final paragraph pledged to defeat the powers of evil, and do so “in the name of the perished.” There was surely nothing objectionable in what was said. The problem was what was NOT said. You see, according to published reports, an earlier draft had added a sentence recognizing in particular the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust, and someone made the decision to remove that statement – and leave not a single reference to Jews. That decision was later defended by one official as a way to recognize that the Nazi’s victims included “priests, gypsies, people with mental or physical disabilities, communists, trade unionists, Jehovah's Witnesses, anarchists, Poles and other Slavic peoples, and resistance fighters." Surely, their lives matter too – not just Jewish lives. Right?
Yes, of course. All lives matter. But there was something about the Holocaust that was uniquely relevant to Jews. Here are the words of historian Deborah Lipstadt, as published in the Atlantic: “There were indeed millions of innocent people whom the Nazis killed in many horrific ways, some in the course of the war and some because the Germans perceived them—however deluded their perception—to pose a threat to their rule,” Lipstadt wrote. “They suffered terribly. But that was not the Holocaust. The Holocaust was something entirely different. It was an organized program with the goal of wiping out a specific people.... The point was not, as in occupied countries, to get rid of people because they might mount a resistance to Nazism, but to get rid of Jews because they were Jews.”
And boy, were those Nazis effective in doing just that. Speaking personally, I come from a family that consists primarily of Holocaust non-survivors, not Holocaust survivors. My maternal grandmother, for example, had seven siblings. Yet I can practically fit all of my known blood relatives – including second cousins and their offspring – into the seats of my mini-van. That is a phenomenon known only to Ashkenazic Jews and orphans. What’s more, the Holocaust was merely the culmination of centuries of vicious discriminatory measures imposed on Jews throughout Europe, measures that dramatically deprived Jews not only of political and economic power but also of living bodies.
All lives matter. But so do all civilizations. And the Jewish civilization has been repeatedly poisoned, often fatally, by other civilizations. Holocaust Remembrance Day is the one day a year when we expect the rest of the world to recognize that fact.
Lest this sound like a partisan post, believe me when I say that ignoring the plight of the Jews is an equal-opportunity pastime. These days, you see it as much if not more on the left as on the right. Consider the words of Congressman Keith Ellison, someone with whom I agree far more often than I disagree. Mr. Ellison might already have been named to head the Democratic National Committee if he had not been taped, in a 2010 gathering, making the following statement to supporters:
“The United States foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad through a country of seven million people.... A region of 350 million all turns on a country of seven million. Does that make sense? Is that logic? Right? When the Americans who trace their roots back to those 350 million get involved, everything changes. Can I say that again?”
There are two things about this statement that offend me. First, he is buying into the trope that everything is controlled by the Jews; clearly, the U.S. Government supports Israel for a host of reasons over and above the interests of the Jewish State or the Jewish people. ‘Nuff said on that obvious point. But the second problem with the Congressman’s statement is, to me, that it ignores the plight of the Jews over time. In pointing to the small number of Jews in Israel – or, for that matter, everywhere else – the Congressman forgot to ask the question, why is the Jewish population so small? Is it because the Jewish civilization was always so tiny? Or is it largely the product of the butchery, ghettoization, and anti-Semitic vitriol that has marked our world generally, and Europe in particular, since ancient times?
Yes, all lives matter. But sometimes, certain lives in particular need to be nurtured and recognized. Unborn lives. Jewish lives. And yes, black lives. In my avocational life, I spend a lot of time recognizing that Muslim lives matter too. Even when you live in a melting pot society, there is a time and place not only for universalism, but also to recognize the unique needs and claims of specific groups of people. Now, more than ever, we need to appreciate that principle.