A History of Zionist Eugenic Policies in Israel
ce399 | research archive - 25 July 2009
In 1944, psychiatrist Kurt Levinstein gave a lecture at a Tel Aviv conference, where he advocated preventing people with various mental and neurological disorders - such as alcoholism, manic depression and epilepsy - from bringing children into the world.
The means he proposed - prohibition of marriage, contraception, abortion and sterilization - were acceptable in Europe and the United States in the first decades of the 20th century, within the framework of eugenics: the science aimed at improving the human race.
In the 1930s, the Nazis used these same methods in the early stages of their plan to strengthen the Aryan race. Levinstein was aware, of course, of the dubious political connotations implicit in his recommendations, but believed the solid and salutary principles of eugenics could be isolated from their use by the Nazis.
Recent research by historian Rakefet Zalashik on the history of psychiatry in Palestine during the Mandate period and following the founding of the state shows that Levinstein was far from a lone voice. Indeed, she claims in her 2008 book, “Ad Nefesh: Refugees, Immigrants, Newcomers and the Israeli Psychiatric Establishment” (Hakibbutz Hameuchad; in Hebrew), that the eugenics-based concept of “social engineering” was part of the psychiatric mainstream here from the 1930s through the 1950s.