Even I thought Hillary Clinton was overstepping the mark earlier this month when
the US secretary of state said the treatment of women in Israel was reminiscent
of the situation in Iran. That was until my health fund, Kupat Holim Meuhedet,
sent a booklet round to my house.
Breast cancer is the most common type
of cancer in Israel. Around 4,000 Israeli women (and 50 men) are diagnosed with
this cancer every year and 900 die of the disease. According to estimates, one
in every eight Israeli women is at risk of developing breast cancer at some
stage of her life. This high rate is attributed to the “Jewish gene”: three
mutations in the BRACA1 and BRACA2 genes, relatively common among Ashkenazi
women, which raise the likelihood of breast cancer by 60 to 80
Early detection of the cancer increases the chance of recovery
to 90% and so health funds like Meuhedet have an interest in running
health-promotion campaigns among their members to inform them of the risks of
breast cancer and alert them to early signs of the disease’s
Obviously, such a booklet needs to be written in the clearest
language possible, while photographs and other visual aids to describe warning
signs such as lumps or a rash on the breast also have an important part to play
in imparting such vital information clearly and in the most accessible manner
BUT APPARENTLY not if you’re Meuhedet, the third-largest health
fund in the country. Instead, this health fund, wary of upsetting some of its
members (it has a large percentage of religious and haredi members) sent out a
booklet in the post titled “The Special Women’s Cancer: The Importance of
Awareness of Early Detection.”
Throughout its 12 pages, the phrase
“breast cancer” never appears, only the coy euphemism “special woman’s cancer,”
which isn’t even medically accurate given the (admittedly small) number of men
who succumb to the disease.
If it wasn’t so tragic, the irony of a
booklet that aims to promote awareness of breast cancer but is afraid to use the
actual word “breast” would be funny. But with 900 women a year dying of the
disease, this is no time for false modesty.
Just what is going on here?
Who could possibly view the term “breast cancer” as sexually arousing? What
self-respecting medical team, seeking to produce an easy-to-understand booklet
to promote early detection of breast cancer, can write phrases like: “The cancer
in the organ under discussion” so as to avoid using the word “breast”? And as
for graphics, just how helpful are photographs of someone pouring a green liquid
from a test tube into a brown bottle or graphics of flowers in terms of showing
women how to check their breasts for lumps? This creeping haredization of
everyday life is dangerous, in this particular case literally. When potentially
fatal diseases cannot be discussed honestly and openly in a health-promotion
booklet sent to all a health fund’s members due to a misguided puritanism, a
tipping point has been reached. The sane, secular majority has to make a stand,
just as it has done over the issue of women soldiers singing in IDF ceremonies,
to ensure that we don’t descend into the fundamentalist depths like
AND IT’S not just the influence of haredi norms on everyday life
that needs urgent attention by all those who want Israel to remain a Western,
democratic country. For too long, the country has turned a blind eye to the
state of anarchy in the West Bank, where extremist settlers ride roughshod over
the law and commit appalling crimes with no fear of retribution.
chilling comparison between the IDF’s killing of Mustafa Tamimi, who threw
stones at an army jeep during a demonstration in the Palestinian village of Nabi
Saleh, and the failure of the army to even arrest the settler hooligans who
threw concrete blocks at senior IDF officers, or who ransacked the Ephraim
Brigade headquarters, highlights the kid-gloves treatment settler extremists
have received over the years by those in power.
In a newspaper article
over the weekend, Uri Saguy, a former head of Military Intelligence, had a
simple solution to the problem of violent settlers threatening the lives of IDF
soldiers: Shoot them.
“The restraint of the brigade commander and his
deputy [who came under attack] is worthy of praise,” Saguy wrote. “But if I was
in the position of the deputy commander and they were throwing bricks at my head
and endangering my life, I would shoot them. You shoot
Sometimes you need a blunt-speaking military man to place
matters into perspective. The wild-eyed, extremist settler youths who set
mosques alight, uproot Palestinian olive trees, and who have now started to
attack IDF soldiers seeking to enforce the law are indeed terrorists, and needed
to be hunted down as such.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of
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