Research by an Israeli PhD student has exposed the eugenic plans of a number of Jewish doctors and Zionist thinkers before World War II. According to Dr Sachlav Stoler-Liss of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, some of Israel's founding fathers proposed castrating the mentally ill, sterilising the poor, limiting the size of “families of Eastern origin” and “preventing… lives that are lacking in purpose”.
“Eugenics is considered to be something that only happened in Germany,” says Dr Stoler-Liss. “Germany was indeed the most murderous manifestation of eugenics, but in fact it was a movement that attracted many followers…. in both Germany and in Israel a link was made between eugenics, health and nationalism.”
One of the leading Zionist thinkers was Dr Max Nordau, whose bizarre theories about “degenerate art” were also taken up by the Nazis. He called for a “Judaism of muscle” to replace “the Jew of the coffee house: the pale, skinny, Diaspora Jew”. His followers argued that to preserve the purity of the Jewish race, degenerates — people who were mentally retarded, blind or deaf, for instance — should not have children.
Although one of the leading eugenicists published an article calling for restricting birth rates amongst “poor families from the East” in the early 1950s, eugenics lost its appeal after the Holocaust and the foundation of the state of Israel. But “eugenic thinking is alive and well today,” says Dr Stoler-Liss. “It is expressed mainly in the very high rate of pre-natal tests and genetic filtering. Mothers are very highly motivated to give birth only to healthy children and the attitude towards the exceptional, the different and the handicapped in Israeli society is problematic.”
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