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Anti-abortion group comes under fire following violent death of teenager

Raz Atias was shot by police after holding a gun to his pregnant girlfriend’s head. Relatives of the girl are now blaming Efrat, an anti-abortion group, for ‘brainwashing teens.’ 

A banner by the anti-abortion group Efrat reads: “At the end of the day, the birthrate is what will determine our existence as a Jewish state.” (photo: Ami Kaufman)

The Hebrew news cycle was dominated last weekend by the death of Raz Atias following a shootout with police. Atias, an 18-year-old navy cadet from Haifa, threatened to hurt his pregnant girlfriend and then commit suicide.

On Thursday evening, Atias  made it known that he and his girlfriend were about to take their life together. Police forces found the couple at the Beit Shemesh forest. Atias held a gun to the girl’s head, and then reportedly opened fire at the cops. He was shot several times and died at the scene. The girl was not hurt.

Initially, reports in the Hebrew media claimed that Atias’ partents had tried to prevent the relationship between the two. However, the story took a surprising twist on Sunday, when the girl’s sister published a public letter accusing Efrat, Israel’s most well-known anti-abortion organization, of “brainwashing… girls, without letting their parents know.”

“We have very serious charges against Efrat,” said the sister, who stated that Efrat’s representatives had convinced Atias’ girlfriend to not have an abortion. Two of the leading organizations for the advancement of women, Na’amat and WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization), issued a public statement calling on authorities to look into the activities of Efrat.

Efrat’s chairman, Dr. Eli Schussheim, denied the accusations. In an interview with the right-wing website Israel National News, Dr. Schussheim said that the organization is only interested in “the well-being, health, and happiness of the woman.” He added that Efrat doesn’t pressure women, but only provides information.

However, evidence suggests otherwise. In an investigative TV piece on the organization done by the independent news group Hayarkon 70, an Efrat representative can be heard advising a 17-year-old pregnant girl not to let her parents know of her pregnancy, and not to consult with a doctor.

You have lots of time… if you continue the pregnancy, keep it to yourself. They [your parents] won’t see it on you even for another 4-5 months… it will just cause them tension, and they will start pressuring you to ‘do this, do that.’

[…]

I suggest you don’t take tests.

Girl: In a hospital? Through a doctor?

Yes. After all, the baby is developing anyhow… your grandmother didn’t do tests, tests don’t determine if the pregnancy goes well or not.

The report states that Efrat’s representatives tell women that “high numbers” of women who had an abortion suffer from emotional and physical complications.

The debate regarding abortion was never a part of the Israeli political discourse in the past. Efrat has launched several high-profile media campaigns in order to encourage women to turn to them before going through the procedure. An effort to ban Efrat’s commercials from public radio – which is not allowed to air “politically controversial” spots – failed, and the campaign continued. It will be interesting to see whether the latest tragedy will change the rather hospitable responses Efrat has enjoyed so far.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. XYZ

      (1) The abortion issue is a quite complex one. Having an abortion is not just like any minor operation. There are important moral questions at play. Judaism is not like the Roman Catholic church in condemning all abortions but that does not mean that Judaism supports abortion on demand. Efrat has every right to inform women considering an abortion to be aware of all the factors involved..

      (2) Regarding Noam’s “progressive” discomfort with the message on Efrat’s banner mentioning that Efrat’s effort to ensure the continuation of Israel as a Jewish state, I can only remind everyone of Arafat’s famous declaration that said something to the effect that the Palestinian woman’s womb was a major weapon in the war against Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • M. Ruth Kent

        wow. so far only men in this discussion. just like in america. be aware that in your rhetorical ejaculations you’ve revealed your own basic fear that underlines men’s obsession with the topic (and here is my own ejaculation): the fear that men are simply unnecessary.

        roles are shifting for everyone, it’s true, and it’s up to you guys to find your own self-worth, and not obsess over this.

        Reply to Comment
        • Mitchell Cohen

          Many, if not most of the volunteers with “Efrat” are women. Do they have your permission to be “obsessed”?

          Reply to Comment
      • Nationalism and misogyny go together hand-in-glove. Arafat’s statement doesn’t make Efrat’s activities right. They’re both wrong.

        If Efrat were motivated by the welfare of unborn children, their door would be open to any woman who needed help to continue a pregnancy. But they are clear that this help is for Jewish women. An Arab mother and baby, are they not worth so much?

        I’m Catholic. You’re right that we believe human life to be sacred from the moment of conception, and that abortion is a violent act. But dishonesty is also a form of violence, especially if you’re being dishonest with someone who is very vulnerable. Counselling a seventeen-year-old girl not to tell her parents about her pregnancy and advising her not to have tests? If she follows this irresponsible advice, she will end up isolating herself from her family (that’s a pretty big secret she’s keeping) and possibly put herself in physical danger as well. The Efrat worker is probably right that the girl’s grandmother didn’t have tests, but what was the maternal mortality rate like in her grandmother’s day?

        Even if Efrat were offering their services to everyone, I couldn’t consider them a pro-life organisation because of this kind of thing. Such deceit and pressure make me uncomfortable. I know a lot of pro-life groups are guilty of it, and it seems to be a very wrong and dangerous approach.

        Reply to Comment
        • XYZ

          There is nothing preventing Israeli Arabs from setting up organizations to give the same type of counseling to Arab women. There may even be such organizations, I don’t know.
          But there is nothing wrong with promoting Jewish fertility in Israel.

          Reply to Comment
          • ‘Promoting Jewish fertility in Israel’ is a very different ballgame from spreading awareness of the moral complexities surrounding abortion. In offering services to just one ethnic group, Efrat is effectively saying that certain unborn life is more valuable. Otherwise they would help mothers just for the sake of helping them, without giving two hoots for the ethnicity of the baby – as if that’s the most important damned thing about a baby, and babies are just like lab rats or some endangered type of manatee, to be bred to specific purpose.

            Near where I used to live in the UK there is a house for pregnant girls and young mums (late teens, early twenties) who need a lot of support. For some of them this house is the only real home they’ve ever had. I’m wondering how it would be if the house’s ethos was ‘to promote white English fertility’, and women not meeting those criteria were excluded from help. And if someone defended the policy with, “There is nothing preventing British Asians from setting up organizations to give the same type of support to Asian women. There may even be such organizations, I don’t know.”

            Advocaating separate counselling services for separate ethnicities does not feel compatible with supporting parents in difficulty or having respect for new life, as it’s a policy that means for some people your door will always be closed. How is this ever right? I hope it turns out to be something you just wrote in a hurry without really thinking.

            Reply to Comment
      • Tor Matless

        Since when is any person’s womb, or any couple’s child-rearing energies, supposed to be at the service of some collective national idea or another?

        I am always suspicious of “have babies for our nation” no matter where it is promulgated. Children are for their parents or better, for themselves.

        Reply to Comment
    2. So, XYZ, we can take from this the general proposition that we should think like our opponents?

      On second thought, perhaps this is a good thing. If (if) Arafat was saying that ultimately violence will fail, so “his people” must rely on the soft competition of population growth, why not make that the Israeli position as well?

      Reply to Comment
      • XYZ

        Why not? Are we supposed to be “better” than them, or something?

        Reply to Comment
        • I would say not as well. Which means that the vanguard settler violence is unacceptable, and the State should actively prosecute and prevent it. I have no problem with the Efrat logic as acceptable competition, so long as open to counter by other Israeli views. If the Efrat position delimits competition on the demographic threat, I’d say enormous progress has been made.

          Reply to Comment
    3. Piotr Berman

      On one hand, the activity of Efrat seems to be copied from similar American organizations. I do not see any other rational approach to such activity except for some counter-campaign making young women aware that there exist other counseling outfits that will not pressure them toward a single solution. These people are highly manipulative, but in some sense sincere.

      On the other hand, how convincing the girl to have the baby lead to the suicidal behavior of her boyfriend? This part of the story is vague to me.

      Reply to Comment
      • Perhaps conflict over responsibility for a life and desired autonomy with feared weakness, rather so young.

        In the US conflict over abortion is sometimes compared to conflict over slavery before the Civil War. Those on the right would make the comparison absolute: abortion is ultimate slavery through death. Apart from this, though, the issues are similar in that neither side had dissipated. While there is maybe a majority feeling that childbirth should not be forced, there is also aversion to abotion as a “tool.” And there seems to be a partial flip of opinion among some women as they age: once pro choice, these move towards “helped” pro life. All I remark here is that, unlike the at first contentious deseggregation, abortion has not moved into the same kind of acceptance. I suspect a public opinion resolution will continue to elude.

        Reply to Comment
      • I don’t see the connection either, Piotr. It is likely that the boyfriend was experiencing significant psychological problems for some time before the pregnancy; this kind of behaviour doesn’t come out of nowhere.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Shaun

      Trumpeting the words of a family member who is suffering unimaginable pain is wrong and should not be exploited for political gain on any issue.

      Reply to Comment
      • Mitchell Cohen

        Hear Hear!!!!

        Reply to Comment

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