Jerusalem, Saturday, June 12, 2004l3 E - MMLTHEW[ ™ COMMENTSTOAreiENI >
^E-HAELTHIS WCTH COMMENTS TO A FE [END
"Do not have children if they won't be
By Tamara Traubmann
A SHOCKING new study reveals how key figures in the pre-state Zionist
establishment proposed castrating the mentally ill, sterilizing the poor and
doing everything possible to ensure reproduction only among the 'best of
Castrating the mentally ill, encouraging reproduction among families "numbered among
the intelligentsia" and limiting the size of "families of Eastern origin" and "preventing ...
lives that are lacking in purpose" ~ these proposals are not from some program of the
Third Reich but rather were brought up by key figures in the Zionist establishment of the
Land of Israel during the period of the British Mandate.
It turns out there was a great deal of enthusiasm here for the improvement of the
hereditary characteristics of a particular race (eugenics). This support, which has been
kept under wraps for many years, is revealed in a study that examines the ideological
and intellectual roots at the basis of the establishment of the health system in Israel.
In the Yishuv (pre-state Jewish community) in the 1930s there were "consultation
stations" operating on a Viennese model of advice centers for couples that wished to
marry and become parents.
In Austria, with the Nazis' rise to power, they served for forced treatment. Here the
stations were aimed at "giving advice on matters of sex and marriage, especially in the
matter of preventing pregnancy in certain cases." They distributed birth- control devices
for free to the penniless and at reduced prices to those of limited means. In Tel Aviv the
advice stations were opened in centers of immigrant populations: Ajami in Jaffa, the
Hatikvah Quarter and Neveh Sha'anan.
These are some of the findings of a doctoral thesis written by Sachlav Stoler- Liss about
the history of the health services in the 1950s, under the supervision of Prof. Shifra
Shvarts, head of the department of health system management at Ben-Gurion
University of the Negev. They were presented at the annual conference of the Israel
Anthropological Association at Ben-Gurion College.
The father of the theory of eugenics was British scholar Francis Galton. It was he who
coined the term - which literally means "well-born" - at the end of the 19th century. The
aim of the eugenics movement was to better the human race. Galton proposed a plan to
encourage reproduction among "the best people" in society and to prevent reproduction
among "the worst elements."
Between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, Galton drew many
followers and his ideas spread rapidly to other countries in Europe (among them
Germany, France, Italy, Denmark, Sweden and Belgium), to the United States and to
some countries in South America. In various countries laws were passed that allowed
for the forced sterilization of "hereditary paupers, criminals, the feeble-minded,
tuberculous, shiftless and ne'er-do-wells." In the United States, up until 1935, about
20,000 people - "insane," "feeble-minded," immigrants, members of ethnic minorities
and people with low IQs - were forcibly sterilized, most of them in California. The
Californian law was revoked only in 1979.
According to Dr. Philip Reilly, a doctor and executive director of the Shriver Center for
Mental Retardation, in 1985 at least 19 states in the United States had laws that allowed
the sterilization of people with mental retardation, (among them Arkansas, Colorado,
Georgia, Minnesota, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Vermont, Utah and
"Eugenics is considered to be something that only happened in Germany," says Stoler-
Liss. "Germany was indeed the most murderous manifestation of eugenics, but in fact it
was a movement that attracted many followers. In every place it took on a unique, local
aspect. It is interesting to note that both in Germany and in Israel a link was made
between eugenics, health and nationalism."
Stoler-Liss first encountered the eugenics texts of doctors from the Y/shuvwhen looking
for instruction books for parents for a research project for her master's degree. "I
presented a text at a thesis seminar and then the instructor of the workshop said to me,
'But why aren't you saying that this is a translated text?' I replied: 'No, no, the text isn't
translated.' 'In Israel,' he said, 'there are no such things.'"
She decided to look into whether there was only anecdotal and non- representative
evidence, doctors and public figures here and there who supported eugenics - and she
found many publications that promoted eugenics. Supporters of the idea were key
figures in the emerging medical establishment in Palestine; the people who managed
and created the Israeli health system.
One of the most prominent eugenicists of the Mandatory period was Dr. Joseph Meir, a
well-known doctor who acquired his education in Vienna, served for about 30 years as
the head of the Kupat Holim Clalit health maintenance organization, and after whom the
Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava is named. "From his position at the very heart of the Zionist
medical establishment in the land of Israel in the mid-1 930s, he brought young mothers
the gospel of eugenics, warned them about degeneracy and transmitted the message to
them about their obligation and responsibility for bearing only healthy children," says
Thus, for example, in 1934 Dr. Meir published the following text on the first page of
"Mother and Child," a guide for parents that he edited for publication by Kupat Holim:
"Who is entitled to give birth to children? The correct answer is sought by
eugenics, the science of improving the race and preserving it from degeneration.
This science is still young, but its positive results are already great and important -
- These cases [referring to marriages of people with hereditary disorders — T.T.]
are not at all rare in all nations and in particular in the Hebrew nation that has
lived a life of exile for 1,800 years. And now our nation has returned to be reborn,
to a natural life in the land of the Patriarchs. Is it not our obligation to see to it that
we have whole and healthy children in body and soul? For us, eugenics as a
whole, and the prevention of the transmission of hereditary disorders in particular,
even greater value than for all other nations! ... Doctors, people involved in sport
and the national leaders must make broad propaganda for the idea: Do not have
children if you are not certain that they will be healthy in body and soul!"
'Problematic and dangerous'
In its full version, the article, which was published in the "Health Guard" section of the
now defunct labor Zionist newspaper Davar, the doctor proposed castrating the mentally
ill. Stoler-Liss found many more examples in the "Mother and Child" books that were
published in 1934 and 1935 and in journals like Eitanim, which was edited by Dr. Meir.
"The support of Dr. Meir and other senior people in the health system for these ideas
has been kept under wraps for many years," claims Stoler-Liss. No one today talks
about this chapter in the history of the Yishuv. In the mid-1950s Dr. Meir's articles were
collected into a book that came out in his memory. The article mentioned above was not
included in it. Stoler-Liss found a card file with notes scribbled by the editors of the
volume. They defined the article as "problematic and dangerous." "Now, after Nazi
eugenics," wrote one of the editors, "it is dangerous to publish this article."
During the latter part of the 1930s, adds Stoler-Liss, when word came out about the
horrors that eugenics in its extreme form is likely to cause, they stopped using this word,
which was attributed to the Nazis. Overnight eugenics organizations and journals
changed their names and tried to shake off any signs of this theory.
Dr. Meir, however, during all the years he was active, continued to promote the ideas of
eugenics. At the beginning of the 1950s he published an article in which he harshly
criticized the reproduction prize of 100 lirot that David Ben-Gurion promised to every
mother who gave birth to 10 children.
"We have no interest in the 10th child or even in the seventh in poor families from
the East ... In today's reality we should pray frequently for a second child in a
family that is a part of the intelligentsia. The poor classes of the population must
not be instructed to have many children, but rather restricted."
"I'm not making a value judgment," says Stoler-Liss. "Zionism arose at a certain period,
in a certain ideological atmosphere - there were all kinds of ideas in the air and there
were also eugenicist Zionists. Some of the doctors were educated in Europe, and at that
time the medical schools taught not only medicine but also the theory of eugenics."
Judaism of muscle
Dr. Meir was not the first Zionist leader who supported eugenics. According to studies
by Dr. Raphael Falk, a geneticist and historian of science and medicine at Hebrew
University, other major Zionist thinkers - among them Dr. Max Nordau, Theodor Herzl's
colleague, a doctor and a publicist, and Dr. Arthur Ruppin, the head of the World Zionist
Organization office in the Land of Israel - presented the ideas of eugenics as one of the
aims of the Jewish movement for national renewal and the settlement of the land.
Prof. Meira Weiss, an anthropologist of medicine at Hebrew University, describes in her
book "The Chosen Body" how the settlement of the land and work on the land were
perceived by these Zionist thinkers as the "cure" that would restore the health of the
Jewish body that had degenerated in the Diaspora. In Nordau's terms, a "Judaism of
muscle" would replace "the Jew of the coffee house: the pale, skinny, Diaspora Jew. "At
a time when many Europeans are calling for a policy of eugenics, the Jews have never
taken part in the 'cleansing' of their race but rather allowed every child, be it the sickest,
to grow up and marry and have children like himself. Even the mentally retarded, the
blind and the deaf were allowed to marry," wrote Ruppin in his book "The Sociology of
the Jews. ""In order to preserve the purity of our race, such Jews [with signs of
degeneracy - T.T.] must refrain from having children."
"Many people dealt with eugenics as a theoretical issue," says Stoler- Liss. "They even
set up a Nordau Club with the aim of researching the racial aspects of the Jewish
people and ways of improving it. What was special about Dr. Meir and the group that
joined him was that for them eugenics was a very practical matter." They wanted to
pursue applied eugenics.
The main institution was the advice station. The first station was opened in 1931 in Beit
Strauss on Balfour Street in Tel Aviv. The aim was to work in "pleasant ways," through
persuasion and choice. As Stoler-Liss explains:
"Why should people work against their personal interests? It is here that the
connection to the national interest comes in. If I understand that by having a baby
I will harm the national interest, the building of the land, the 'new Jew,' I will
refrain from giving birth. But just to make certain, Meir told the doctors, in the
event that a woman comes to you who is 'a risk' for giving birth to a sick baby, it
is your obligation to make certain that she has an abortion."
"Gynecologist Miriam Aharonova also wrote extensively on the subject of eugenics,"
adds Stoler-Liss. "In articles for parents under headings such as The Hygiene of
Marriage' she gives a list of eugenic instructions for parents ~ from the recommended
age for giving birth (between 20 and 25), to the recommended difference in age
between the father and the mother (the reason for which is the betterment of the race)
to a list of diseases that could infect the spouse or "be transmitted through heredity to
their descendents after them."
In the diseases, she mentions "syphilis, gonorrhea, tuberculosis, alcoholism, narcotics
addiction (fondness for morphine, cocaine, etc.) and diseases of the mind and the
nerves." In the volume of "Mother and Child" published in 1935, says Stoler-Liss, the
publication and discussions by doctors who supported eugenics was greatly expanded.
Why, in fact, did they not use force? The establishment had a great deal of power over
immigrants and refugees.
"The medical establishment's power was limited at that time. This was an establishment
that developed hand in hand with the system it was supposed to strengthen and
suffered from constant shortages: a shortage of doctors, a shortage of nurses and a
shortage of equipment. It had to examine, treat, inoculate and so on. We are talking
about the period of the British Mandate. When at long last there was a state, eugenics
theory declined. My explanation is the change of generations: that generation had come
to an end professionally, and a new generation with more national motivation came
along that was not educated at the European universities during that period. They had
already seen what the Nazis had done with it and the ideological identification was
lower. The ideas themselves seeped in but they're not using the same rhetoric."
Have eugenics really vanished?
The eugenic chapter in the history of Western culture has been closed, but have
eugenics really disappeared?
"Eugenic thinking is alive and well today," asserts Stoler-Liss. "It is expressed
mainly in the very high rate of pre-natal tests and genetic filtering [of genetically
deviant fetuses]. Mothers are very highly motivated to give birth only to healthy
children and the attitude toward the exceptional, the different and the handicapped
in Israeli society is problematic."
At hospitals today future parents are offered a plethora of genetic tests that diagnose
the fetus before birth. Some of them are aimed at identifying serious disorders, like Tay-
Sachs disease, a degenerative disease that causes a painful death in infancy. Others,
however, are aimed at screening fetuses with conditions like deafness and sterility, the
bearers of which can lead full and satisfying lives."
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