23 January 2012

Scandal: prenatal care in Israel is well organized

Introduction: A short time ago I've posted a short piece De nada, Ilse dealing with an amazing view of Israeli prenatal care. The piece met some spirited defense. The article below is originally written in Dutch by Ratna Pelle, a Dutch publisher/writer on Israel, a peace activist, a friend and a person deeply involved in the sometimes convoluted coverage of this here neck of the woods.

I am sure that the reader will be able to come to her/his own conclusions after reading this rough translation of the article, made using Google Translate and assistance of the author.

Two weeks ago the Dutch daily newspaper Trouw published an article about prenatal care in Israel under a very suggestive title: "The chosen people must be perfect." The article is about the experiences of a Dutch woman (Ilse van Heusden, a journalist) in Israel, who felt that the way the health of her fetus was being monitored by Israeli medical personnel, and all the tests that were imposed on her, were very overdone.

An article comparing prenatal care in different countries would be interesting, and can indeed reveal something about a country, its culture, politics, level of organization and the priorities it sets. This article however, talks only about specific experiences of one woman, with some quotes from others linking prenatal care to Israel's focus on military(!) and politics, the Jewish past and, of course, the Holocaust. We learn nothing about health care in Israel in general, about the infant mortality rate compared to other countries (very low, unlike in the Netherlands), about the experiences and satisfaction of Israeli women (Jew or Arab) with the system, etc.

The author admits that reading a menu card is as far as her Hebrew goes, and her poor knowledge of the language may have contributed to her negative judgment.

The purpose of this article seems not to inform people, but merely to convey a sentiment and thus to score some cheap points. In fact it's a boring story, since details of the birth of another person's child are just not necessarily interesting. So the author spices it up by throwing in an occasional suggestive note, hinting that things are better organized in the Netherlands because "here they are not so exacting," and in the Netherlands you "can still enjoy pain during childbirth". If you ignore these comments and consider only the facts, a picture emerges of a very well organized health care system, where every effort is made to ensure that your child is born healthy. And that would seem to be a good thing, perhaps an example we can adopt.

The article evoked a lot of reactions and emotions, and I've read several comments from women who claim to be happy with the Israeli system and the care they received. Van Heusden also casually mentioned her 'friends in Netherlands' who "jealously sighed that at least for me it was all well organized." But she immediately added that Israel obviously can't guarantee that your child will be healthy, because a 100% guarantee does not exist.

People always refer to the Holocaust when writing about Jewish people. No report about Israeli society or politics can do without linking it to Judaism, the Bible and the Holocaust. Van Heusden also makes ample use of these clichés in her story to liven up its dullness. A woman told her that she switched to another gynecologist after hers had urged her to have an abortion because a deviation was found:

"What is with this country?" I sighed. "The Jewish people are the chosen people," she replied. "And their children should be perfect."
This is a false suggestion, which is repeated several times. There are more abortions committed in the Netherlands than in Israel, and it is not true that Israeli women are pressured not to have an abortion. Like in the Netherlands there is a stringent procedure. It would also contradict the stated Israeli desire for a high birth rate (which the article strongly suggests), but consistency is just not the strong suit of Israel bashers:
Children need not only be perfect: what makes things even more emotionally charged is the Israeli demand to have many children. The state promotes having children, for instance through high child support.
The latter is true, but mainly because of ultra-Orthodox parties' disproportionate influence on politics (they are indispensable in almost every coalition). In exchange for supporting government policies they stipulate government support for religious schools and exemption from army service. Incidentally, Arab families benefit from this as much as Jewish families, and the birth rate among Arabs is higher than among secular Jews. The suggestion that Israel consciously encourages a high birthrate to strengthen the Jewish majority is therefore contrary to the policy which also favors Arabs with many children.

The article then links the high birth rate in Israel to the Holocaust:
The very fact that Israel is in a permanent conflict area, contributes to the high birthrate in Israel, according to Israeli Professor David Passig: "It is known that everywhere in the world more children are born after a war. Here the wars come and go." But the futurologist at Bar Ilan University sees the real cause somewhere else: the Holocaust. "We have barely recovered from that disaster. The State of Israel lives in fear and striving to survive, so we get more kids."
That fear is allayed by many check-ups. That is helped, says Passig, by the fact that the prenatal tests are not controversial in Judaism.

It is quite possible that the many disasters the Jewish people have lived through, and the wars against Israel, had an influence on their attitude towards children. In addition, Israel at its inception had about 700,000 inhabitants, and in a short time more than one million refugees from Arab states as well as Holocaust survivors from Europe joined them and had to be provided for, meanwhile fighting off Arab attacks. This is not so much about defusing (irrational) fears, but about pure survival. Israeli society is more focused on ways to survive than the Dutch. People work harder, everyone must serve in the army (except Arabs and ultra-Orthodox, which is an increasing problem as both groups grow). People are inventive and enterprising, helping strangers on the street and getting involved with each other, and there is less attention paid to 'luxury' stuff like tidy streets and parks.

An article without negative intent or undertones, investigating how the Holocaust affects modern Israel, might be interesting, although one should remain wary of easy clichés. An article on how health care in Israel is organized as compared with other countries would also be instructive. A study in which regulations regarding pregnancy care and infant care in some countries are associated with the attitude towards children in the dominant religions and cultures can also be interesting. An article in which a woman describes her own, by no means exciting experiences and dishes out most hackneyed clichés about the country ("having a child in Israel is like a military operation") which concludes that it is all wrong in Israel once again, is not only terribly boring but is also unworthy of Trouw. Every opportunity to present a negative story about Israel is grabbed with both hands, since such stories are doing well in Europe these days.

The unsavory headline with a subtle reference to the anti-Semitic notion that Jews consider themselves superior to non-Jews, disguises the less substantial content of the article. Congratulations, Trouw, you are slipping more and more down to the level of a tabloid.

This is not the first time the childbearing subject is used to show Israel and Judaism in a bad light. Two years ago, Dutch TV news show Nova did a report about IVF treatments in Israel, emphasizing the generous multiple IVF reimbursements for women of a relatively advanced age. Scandalous, of course, and clear proof of the ominous Israeli plans to dominate the non-Jews by power of the womb. Perhaps we can stop with this nonsense and just agree that the Israelis may make other choices and organize their society different than the Dutch do? Sometimes better, sometimes worse, sometimes just different.

Ratna Pelle


Lee said...

Excellent response. The original article neglects to metnion that all Israelis, Jews, Christian, Muslims, Bahai and others like the author benefit from this excellent care and provide the best health care system in the world are any guide. She neglects to tell her reading audience why she was in Israel in the first place for the birth of her child or who was paying her rent.
New Zealand.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

I am not sure whether the reason she was in Israel and who was paying that rent is relevant, Lee. But thanks for kind opinion, I shall pass it to Ratna.

KatieNorcross said...

I wonder why she is kvetching?  She received excellent care, had a healthy baby boy, and was better off in Israel than in the Netherlands.

Of course all Jewish babies are perfect!!!!  Just ask ANY Jewish Grandmother, but be prepared to view over 100 pictures of the perfect child(ren).

SnoopyTheGoon said...

These pictures are why I never ask, Katie. Oh, and that old Israeli joke: Do you like our kid? Yes? Very much? That's nothing, wait till you see the pictures...

Brian Goldfarb said...

Katie, only 100? As a grandparent, let me tell you, that's getting off lightly, especially with modern digital cameras. All we grandparents (fathers and well as mothers) have to do is tie them down to the chair in front of the computer.

BTW, The Contentious Centrist picked this up from here (as she acknowledge). She even wrote to the lady concerned, but, of course, answer came there none. No surprise there then. Read her entry here, at 16 january: 

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Thanks, Brian, I have read the Noga's post.