Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Adnan Abu Aamer writing at the pan-Arab newspaper Arabi 21, reviews the controversy roiling the Palestinian-Israeli community, over a physician’s remarks on the alleged “danger” posed by the Palestinian “womb.”
The chief of heart surgery at Saroka Medical Center in Beesheba, Gideon Sahar, addressed a question to far right wing Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, the Marjorie Taylor Green of Israel. He complained that Israel’s pro-natalist rewards to mothers who have children cover both Jews and Palestinian-Israelis. In Israel, the latter are typically called “Israeli Arabs” or “the Palestinians of ’48,” i.e. those not ethnically cleansed by the paramilitaries of the Jewish settler community during the 1947-48 War. Palestinian-Israelis are about 20% of the Israeli population.
Sahar suggested that Bedouin families should be penalized for having more than three children, i.e. that they should be treated differently from Jewish families, given the danger he saw that the “Arab womb” would prove victorious over Israel.
In Arabi 21’s translation of his remarks, Sahar is reported to have said that Israel falls into a kind of contradiction when it encourages the Palestinians to have more children by giving them financial allowances without restriction, which may call for thinking about what he called “a regressive child allowance,” meaning that the second child, and perhaps the third child, receives the financial allowances stipulated in the law, but the fourth child does not receive them, and in the event that the Palestinian family gives birth to a fifth child, it would be obliged to pay a fine to the state.
The video of his observations with Arabic subtitles can be seen here.
Dina Kraft explained at CSM that most Israeli families have an average of 3 children. Mothers get job security and six weeks of paid maternity leave, and other inducements to have children. Palestinian-Israeli families on the whole also have three children apiece, and so are not growing faster than the Jewish population.
There are exceptions on both sides. The Haredim or Ultra-Orthodox Jews have big families, and they are 8 percent of the Jewish population. Among the Palestinian-Israelis, Bedouin families, who are rural, typically have 5 children. Bedouin make up about 13% of the Palestinian-Israeli population, but are 25% of the population in the Negev, where Beersheba is located.
Even Ayelet Shaked rejected the suggestion as impractical. She said that instead, Israel had had some success in convincing the Bedouin men to take only one wife, and that was reducing their birth rate.
Shaked’s allegation is unlikely to be true. Although Muslim men may theoretically take up to 4 wives, only 2% of Muslim families worldwide are estimated to be polygamous. Bedouin high fertility is instead correlated with being rural. For rural families worldwide, children are free labor when young and social security when the parents get old. Urban people typically want fewer children, because in cities they are typically an extra expense and often people live in small apartments.
Dr. Sahar’s Palestinian-Israeli colleagues were deeply hurt by his remarks. Those on staff at Soroka Medical Center staged a one-hour walk-out in protest. The head of the Arab Physicians’ Union in the Negev, Naim Abu Fariha, wrote to the director of the hospital, Shlomo Kodesh, branding Sahar’s remarks “racist in the first degree” and said they were deplorable inasmuch as they denigrated the entire Palestinian community as “problematic.”
The Palestinian-Israeli physicians demanded that the hospital administration denounce what they characterized as Sahar’s “racist statements,” even though he is head of a major medical department. They said he is supposed to be dedicated to saving lives, but that he attacked the “womb” of Arab women. Someone who sees a womb as a threat, they said, has no place in the health system, and they wondered what sort of care his Palestinian-Israeli patients could expect from him.
Osama Tannous, writing at Middle East Eye, reports that Palestinian-Israeli physicians are pointing out that medical ethics statements in Israel require an anti-racist stand, which Sahar’s position violated.
Sahar’s attitude could be compared to the far right “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory among white nationalists in the United States, which holds (falsely) that wealthy Jewish businessmen are bringing in brown and black immigrants to work cheaply in the U.S. and to replace white workers. In Sahar’s version, Palestinian Bedouin are using their women to out breed Israel’s Jews. In both versions of the theory, there is a Semitic villain– wealthy Jews in the US and poor Bedouin in Israel.
The Great Replacement theory, which has been adopted by many US Republicans, has its origins in French Nazism.