Coy euphemisms, tragic implications

Securing Israel as a Western, democratic country is coming under increasing attack from haredim and extremist settlers.

Haredi orthodox Jewish men protest 311 (R) (photo credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
Haredi orthodox Jewish men protest 311 (R)
(photo credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
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 percent.
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 appearance.
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 possible.
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 Iran.
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.
The 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 terrorists.”
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 The Jerusalem Post.