Opinion

Eugenics and Ethnic Cleansing: The Values that Unite the US and Israel

Coerced or forced hysterectomies can be contextualized within a broader history of eugenics in both countries.

“You’d have a hard time finding a point in history where the US government *wasn’t* running concentration camps and forcibly sterilizing people.” Onyesonwu Chatoyer, organizer for the All African People’s Revolution Party was responding to a recent lawsuit which alleges that a doctor subjected women to unwanted hysterectomies while being detained by Immigration Control and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

As Tina Vasquez writes, several organizations filed the complaint on behalf of immigrants inside the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC), a facility in Georgia run by private prison company LaSalle Corrections. According to the whistleblower Dawn Wooten, a licensed practical nurse at the center, several women told her that they were transported to an outside facility to see “the uterus collector,” their name for the doctor believed to be responsible for the measures.

“When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp,” a detainee said in the complaint.

Indeed, ICE has a long history of targeting pregnant migrant women and other vulnerable people in the detention system. Under Trump’s new “birth tourism” policy, so-called after parents who allegedly travel to the United States to gain citizenship for their unborn child, certain applicants for visas must provide proof that they are not traveling for that reason.

Much of these policies are based on fear of changing demographics, a fear among white Americans that their cultural capital is losing value. Because presidential hopeful Joe Biden claims that a “shared soul that unites our countries [Israel and the United States}, generation upon generation,” it makes sense that both countries fear changing times.

For example, after years of denying it, Israel admitted in 2013 that it ordered doctors to inject Ethiopian Jewish women with a drug that would involuntarily sterilize them. In much the same language used by white supremacists in America, Netanyahu warned that illegal immigrants from Africa “threaten our existence as a Jewish and democratic state.”

Coerced or forced hysterectomies can be contextualized within a broader history of eugenics in both countries. Hitler is perhaps the most infamous proponent of a master race, but as Edwin Black observes, the movement for ethnic cleansing originated in the United States.

A pseudoscience directing at “improving” the human race, its most extreme form aims to exterminate “undesirable” human beings. Facets of this idea are found in strategic plans such as forced sterilization and segregation laws, as well as restrictions on marriage between white people and African Americans that lasted well into the 20th century.

Well into the 1970s and 1980s, too, Native American women received tubal ligations when they thought that they were getting appendectomies. Perhaps as many as 25-50 percent of Native American women underwent such procedures between 1970 and 1976. Even more sterilizations are recorded in Puerto Rico where such acts form a dark part of the island’s history.

In a 1927 decision, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind… Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

This rhetoric is reiterated in Israel, where officials such as Ayelet Shaked, of the Jewish Home Party, are known for their racist remarks. For example, in 2015, Shaked openly called for the genocide of Palestinian people by posting a quote from Uri Elitzur, the late right-wing journalist and leader of the Israeli settler movement:

“Behind every terrorist, stand dozens of men and women, without whom [the enemy] could not engage in terrorism. Actors in the war are those who incite in mosques, who write the murderous curricula for schools, who give shelter, who provide vehicles, and all those who honor and give them their moral support. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”

According to Ben Norton, Shaked’s views are held by others in Netanyahu’s government. During Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza, named “Operation Protective Edge,” Norton reports that the military carried out in action Shaked’s extreme rhetoric.

At that time, Moshe Feiglin, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, called for the “conquest of the entire Gaza Strip and annihilation of all fighting forces and their supporters.” His statement follows along the lines of ethnic cleansing. “This is our country – our country exclusively,” he said, “including Gaza.”

On September 14, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action tweeted:

“Forced sterilization is genocide. ICE is performing mass hysterectomies on immigrant women. ICE is committing genocide. It is part of a long history of eugenics and assaults on reproductive freedom in the United States — a system that directly inspired the Nazi regime.”

A “progressive” Jewish organization that calls attention to such issues, Bend the Arc fails to make the connection with Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, also genocide as defined by the Center for Constitutional Rights.

If common values unite Israel and the United States, as Joe Biden claims, then we should all be worried. We should all be connecting the dots.

When news broke a few days ago of the forced sterilizations in Georgia’s detention center there was shock and outrage, as well there should have been. On the other hand, this treatment of “undesirables” has a long history in both Israel and the United States. Indeed, both countries could easily be charged with genocide, in Israel of Palestinians and in the US of the Indigenous people here.

Moreover, if there is very little difference between Trump and Biden regarding their 100 percent support for Israel, as Ramzy Baroud claims, then it seems that the best action for activists in this country will be education work and grassroots actions in the streets.

Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) once said that in order for non-violence to work your opponent must have a conscience. The US, he concluded, has none.

The same could be said for both candidates, at least regarding Israel. Indeed, Biden’s refusal to reverse many of Trump’s Israel policies, writes Baroud, including his application of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, makes clear the “moral bankruptcy” of the Democratic Party which seems motivated much more by its political, rather than ethical, agenda.

Benay Blend
Benay Blend

Benay Blend earned her doctorate in American Studies from the University of New Mexico. Her scholarly works include Douglas Vakoch and Sam Mickey, Eds. (2017), “’Neither Homeland Nor Exile are Words’: ‘Situated Knowledge’ in the Works of Palestinian and Native American Writers”.

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