Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Here's one on the top of the Disgusting charts

If this story is true, it is to us as disgusting, inexcusable a story one can imagine.  As reported in the LA Times, the minister of health in Israel, has just revised guidelines for the use of the birth control drug, Depo-Vera, now requiring better informed consent when it is prescribed.
The ministry's new policy comes in response to a controversy exposed last month by local investigative journalist Gal Gabbay, who reported that Jewish Ethiopian women awaiting emigration to Israel in transit camps in Ethiopia were coaxed into the treatment with little medical explanation and led to understand this was a condition for moving to Israel.
Many women continued to receive the drug after moving to Israel, although they were often not informed of its effects. 

Whether or not this was officially sanctioned by the Israeli government is not yet known, but the high number of women given Depo-Vera, and the fact that, again according to the LA Times, 60% of the women given the treatment were Ethiopian, and most of the rest women in detention, suggests that it was at least someone's official policy.  The reason being suggested is that if Israel didn't control births among this immigrant group, Ethiopians would pollute the true Jewish gene pool.  After the story hit the news, or, as the LA Times put it, "rocked by scandal," the government revised its guidelines.  Which suggests that there are at least some decent people in the Israeli government. And raises the question how anyone in that population could possibly think to do this sort of thing without crystal clear agreement on the part of the recipients (victims?)--much less justify it in his/her own mind.

This is so completely a replay, in reverse, of what Hitler visited on the Jews to preserve the pure Aryan race, as to be totally jaw-dropping.  If even Israel's European Jews can't escape the trap of vicious racism, and justify a recurrence of eugenics, then what hope is there for anybody!

We have written about our concerns, and have often been asked what we think, about the potential for genomic data to be used in a way that might revisit the eugenics era, in which privileged scientists and health professionals used a Darwin-rationalized belief in peoples' inherited worth to decide who deserves to have life.  Judgments by the elite on who's worthy and who isn't are a commonplace in human history, and genetic and evolutionary justifications are just some of the more recent excuses for exploitation and elitism. This shows the need for vigilance, and we shouldn't overlook the possibility that real good may come of genomics if there are strong laws to prevent abuse. But many just conveniently dismiss the idea that abuse will be commonplace, arguing that we should just be allowed to whatever of this kind of research we want to, because we would never repeat the sins of our recent forebears.....

The Israeli story isn't the only recent one.  A few years ago the Brits were suggesting the use of genetics to determine who should be allowed to immigrate (based on detection of some countries of origin).  Even if it was stopped before being implemented, the fact that it was seriously considered was concerning.  But to hear that the Israelis, of all people, would reinvent the involuntary sterilization of the unworthy, shows that raising the issue of a new era of eugenics is not just being Chicken Little and making up issues where they really don't exist.

To us it is important to have real, strict, enforced laws on what science is allowed to investigate.  Yes, it's censorship!  But we already do prohibit all sorts of research on humans, and even to a lesser extent on animals.  We are not allowed to cry Fire! in a theater unless there is a fire. Slander is a kind of speech that isn't free.  We couldn't for example, put study subjects in a tank of ice water to see how long they survived, the kind of thing that was done by the Nazis.  Millions of people who died in the Holocaust--many of them the Jewish ancestors or relatives of today's Israelis--would have had a chance at life had there been such restriction in the first half of the 20th century.

Is there any place for sympathy?
We've been unapologetically critical of this decision to protect the Chosen race (should we call them, say, neo-Aryans?).  There is consistent historical precedent for people to develop tribal solidarity, and hence to be suspicious and wary of incoming people who are not members of the tribe.  That may be  only natural: tribal identity is a way of building cooperation and trust, order and solidarity.  Outsiders can pose various levels of unknown threat.  That's why immigrants are so widely distrusted and opposed today and in the past, and why ethnic warfare is not a new invention.  Nor is elitism based on  inherent worth--it's in Plato and other Greek classical authors, and the earliest formal writing on such topics.

From this point of view, it is wholly understandable that, now that it's their turn in power, the European-derived Israeli power structure would feel threatened not just by Palestinian Muslims but even by those 'other' kinds of Jews that may not look or act like proper (i.e., clean-cut, educated European) Jews, that is, the ones in power.  It is also quite understandable--which is not the same as excusable--that those in power would want to pretend to welcome all members of their religious tribe, but not really want to be overwhelmed (i.e., out-reproduced) by them.

The lesson is perhaps an anthropological one: that no group, even those who were the victims within living memory of as  evil a genocide as was ever perpetrated, can be trusted to behave differently when they are in power.  The bottom line is that we have to be strong and vigilant in opposing this kind of action.

Unfortunately, this has implications for immigration policies, worldwide.  The reality must be addressed that people do tend to oppose immigration.  Policy to incorporate or limit foreigners has to be based on how the locals feel at any given time.  Every population is capable of acting in a seriously discriminatory way.  There are no easy answers, but the lesson of the eugenics era, and its reported echo even where it should be most eschewed with horror, should be one all of us should  learn.  And we should be careful about using Darwin or genetics to base our decisions on.

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