MK Miri Regev’s comparison of asylum seekers to cancer was offensive to many because of what it says about Africans – but what about what it says about those struggling with the disease? A cancer survivor responds to MK Miri Regev.
By Ruth Hiller
MK Miri Regev’s recent racist rant hit a nerve with me. She described the African asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan, now in Israel , as a “cancer in Israel’s body.” I have to admit, as a recent breast cancer survivor, this made me cringe.
Cancer, even when caught at an early stage, can have severe consequences on the victim’s physical wellbeing and psyche. It raises serious questions and fears regarding death and life after cancer for the victim and their families. Additionally, the “Big C” does not distinguish between skin color, gender, nationality or age, and anyone can be a cancer victim or be affected by it through friends and loved ones. Cancer changes your life and your perspective.
I take Regev’s remark personally and resent her usage of cancer as a way to dehumanize human beings whose greatest crime, not unlike my state of mind this past year, has been to survive. When you use someone else’s crisis to put yourself in a position of superiority, you lose your ability to be compassionate.
Asylum seekers, not unlike cancer victims, merit the greatest compassion because they have had to give up so much in order to survive. They have run for their lives, and in doing so have left loved ones and all that is dear and important to them behind in Eritrea and Sudan.
Not only does Miri Regev offend cancer patients and their families, she does a great injustice to the faithful medical personnel and volunteer staff who work with such conviction, not unlike the volunteers and NGO staffs that are committed to aiding and protecting the African refugees. There is no way I can measure their compassion or their devoted commitment. What is Miri Regev saying? That their work and efforts are unworthy and wasted?
Cancer is a brutal disease, and as a cancer patient I have felt many moments of fear, despair and vulnerability. But MK Miri Regev’s words are equally violent and vicious in their own way. They resonate. By expressing her racist rage with such brute verbal force, she is able to incite an entire crowd to do horrifying things to Africans in Israel, violent things with tragic and often immediately physical repercussions. I myself felt threatened by her words, too.
I sensed the great danger in her abuse of her social and political power. As a member of the Israeli Knesset, the highest governmental body in Israel, it would be wise of her to remember that this job comes not only with great social responsibility, but also demands that she command herself in a way that is respectful of her standing and in doing so, is also respectful of her constituents.
However, her use of a specific verbal flair and angry words, together with poignantly dramatic gestures, gave her new found power, and she succeeded in inciting and mobilizing a mob. Her words insinuated that there is a way to take care of the problem of the African refugees and that it should be done thoroughly and without undue consideration. She gave justification to blind rage and commanded action, using the fear of cancer as the mobilizer. People, and in this case the refugees who managed to reach Israel and implore our sense of humanity, are not cancerous tumors that must be aggressively removed and disposed of in the most heartless fashion.
MK Miri Regev’s apology to cancer patients on her Facebook page is a cop out. There is no justification for using the word cancer, a terrible disease in all respects, to describe a community, especially another community in need. As a Facebook refuser, and a cancer survivor, and an advocate for human rights including the right to dignity, I can’t relate to her casual and offhand apology. I find it grossly insensitive to the many citizens who suffer or have suffered and survived cancer, or to the families of those who didn’t survive. I expect public servants, even the ones I would never vote for, to show a minimum of social responsibility and correctness, and set an example to the society that they serve. MK Regev has not only failed to do this – she is displaying an attitude of alarming human, public contempt.
I am learning that there is life after cancer, and there is hope. But I refuse to let MK Miri Regev do her politicizing at my expense and at the expense of general human dignity.
Ruth Hiller is a longtime peace activist and one of the founders of New Profile, a feminist organization for the demilitarization of Israeli society.