On Tuesday, I woke up to a shocking video sent by a colleague who works as a physician in the Naqab. The video, which was circulating widely on social media platforms and WhatsApp groups, showed Gideon Sahar, the head of cardiothoracic surgery at Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, directing a question to Israel’s far-right interior minister, Ayelet Shaked.
At a meeting of the Jewish Home party, he asked Shaked about the “problematic population”, referring to Palestinian citizens of Israel. “Regarding the matter of population growth and the more problematic population, we face a kind of paradox,” Sahar said.
“On the one hand, we understand that the birthrate is decisive - the Arab womb; and on the other hand, we encourage it with all the child allowances. That’s why I think we should consider a child allowance that is regressive: the first child receives one, the second child receives one, perhaps the third child; the fourth child does not, and the fifth child perhaps triggers a fine. We have to figure out something.”
Shaked responded that such a system would not work, citing her programme for fighting polygamy among the Bedouin community, wherein “westernisation” encourages women to have fewer children.
Sahar’s words have sent shockwaves through the Palestinian medical community inside Israel. A group representing Arab physicians in the Naqab has filed a formal complaint with the administration of Soroka hospital, expressing outrage at Sahar’s description of Palestinians and the “Arab womb” as “problematic”. A physician expressing such opinions cannot be trusted to treat Arab patients equally and should be fired, the complaint stated. Sahar has since apologised, and Soroka Medical Center said his comments “were made at a private event that is unconnected to his work and to his profession”.
Such comments seem to come straight from a fascist textbook, describing an entire population - one of a different race, ethnicity or religion - as problematic, and seeing its birthrate as a problem that needs punitive government intervention.