When Ideology Caves to Biology

Israeli Anti-Family Activist Starts Family

We all perhaps have one in our family: the smug, still-childless relative, sitting in judgement upon the parenting skills of others. He is convinced that when he has children, they will never act like his darling nieces and nephews. They will eat nutritiously, behave beautifully, dress neatly, and submit like little angels to having their hair fixed and their noses wiped. His kids will always say please and thank-you, never fight, and play peacefully with their savage cousins.

And then, of course, said relative has a baby, and all perfectly laid plans go out the window. And you, if you’re a normal human being, gloat just a little.

So it goes when a self-proclaimed and particularly powerful anti-family activist decides to have a child. At the end of August, Israeli Labor Party Leader and Secretary of Transportation Merav Michaeli announced that she and longtime partner, comedian and television personality Lior Schleien, had welcomed a baby boy via an American surrogate. This news came as a bit of a shock to her followers, as Michaeli has long been a vocal and virulent enemy of the family—she memorably argued at a TedX talk in 2017 that society should “cancel marriage.” So potent and influential have her arguments become that pro-family policy advisor Kimberly Ells devotes an entire chapter to her in her new book, The Invincible Family. (For those interested, SALVO’s Terrell Clemmons covered the book here.)

As Ells summarizes, Michaeli’s philosophy on the family traces its roots back to Engels, and his arguments that the institution of marriage exists because men needed a way to ensure their property went to their biological offspring. Marriage is degrading to women, a disservice to children, and sets up a horrifyingly dangerous environment (the natural family) for children. Michaeli believes that biology should be disconnected from family—two or even three non-biologically related people should be permitted to become a child’s “parents.” The state, and not individual humans, should determine who is and isn’t fit to become a “parent.” Michaeli has also been vocal about her own desire to not have children, as they get in the way of happiness. She and her Schleien famously live in the same apartment building but different apartments, and of course, remain unmarried.

So what gives? Why did this anti-family, anti-baby power woman decide to have a child?

Michaeli gives us the answer in her own Facebook announcement (you can read a translation here):

The first time that Lior said “Let’s have a baby,” I was sure that it was all a joke. He’s a comedian, after all, and he was talking to me, knowing full well that I have no plans to have children. . . . When he kept it up, I thought that he was just saying it because in our culture, this is an acceptable way to say “I love you.” For a long time, I thought that it was a phase and that it would pass. From my perspective, our lives were absolutely wonderful the way they were. But over time, I came to realize how much he really wanted this. I looked at him and realized that I love him, so I decided to be with him. That’s when I chose to go on this journey with him.

The man she loved wanted a baby, and she acquiesced.

But once she had agreed, a new problem arose: biology. Michaeli is 54, and acknowledged fertility struggles in the Facebook announcement of her son’s birth. So she and Schleien turned to surrogacy:

This was a journey with lots of attempts. I’m glad that I went through it. I now know what it means for me personally and what it involves. I know what it is like to undergo fertility treatments, but we’ll talk about that some other time. We had the incredible good luck to meet Kelsey, an amazing young American woman, who wanted to help people in our situation, while at the same time supporting her wonderful family. Thanks to her, Uri was born yesterday.

This, too, represents something of a 180 to her previously stated positions. Eight years ago, Michaeli told an interviewer,

“[Surrogacy] is a form of trading in women’s bodies and reveling in it in a way that makes me feel uncomfortable. . . . The fact that people who cannot conceive approach a woman who must then undergo hormone treatments, pregnancy and childbirth with all that this entails, only to give up that child, seems—how shall I say it—unreasonable. After all, the women who do it are desperate for the money.” As an alternative, Michael has promoted adoption. Michaeli’s own admission that hers was “a journey with lots of attempts” probably implies some lost embryonic lives, as well, the usual byproduct of IVF, surrogacy, and advanced fertility treatments. (We can’t be sure the child is biologically hers, of course. It’s very possible the couple used a donated egg—a further commodification of yet another woman’s body.)

It will be interesting to see how—and if—Michaeli attempts to reconcile her past positions with her latest actions, particularly when it comes to surrogacy and the commodification of Kelsey’s body. As Ells writes for MercatorNet, why did Michaeli and Schleien decide to pursue a biological attachment to their child, instead of adoption, if biology doesn’t matter? Is Kelsey’s “choice” to rent out her womb somehow more valid now, because the baby was Michaeli’s? Given what Michaeli has said about the family and particularly fathers being harmful to children, will she deem it necessary to protect Uri from his dad? Will she voluntarily give up her own child to the state, allowing the Israeli government to determine her own parental rights?

What this story proves, once again, is that ideology doesn’t stand a chance against biology. In spite of her own vocal opposition to marriage and children, in spite of her pronouncement that she didn’t intend to have any, Michaeli created a child with the man she loved. But the way she did so is troubling. Modern fertility treatments and commercial surrogacy pit the desires of some adults (the wealthy and powerful, who can afford such measures) against the needs of poor women and the rights of children to know and be loved by their biological parents. This is to say nothing of the harm that Michael’s arguments had upon other women, women “empowered” by her rhetoric to “cancel” marriage and forego their own families. What of those women who cannot afford the drastic measures that Michael herself has now taken?

Regardless of all of this, a baby is good news. Let us hope that having her own family gives Michaeli insight into the profound positive good the institution is, and converts her to a friend and advocate of the family in Israel.

is the managing editor of The Natural Family, the quarterly publication of the International Organization for the Family.

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