Monday, April 27, 2009

Semantics for the sake of semantics

This is way off-topic from the usual topics of this blog; But I'd still like to share the following bizarre news from the fringes of Israeli politics. In response to the outbreak of 'Swine Flu' (i.e. H1N1), possibly pandemic and with two suspected cases in Israel, the
Ultra-Orthodox Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman on Monday declared that Israel would call the new potentially deadly disease that has already struck two continents 'Mexico Flu,' rather than 'Swine Flu, as pigs are not kosher.

(Excerpt from Haaretz)

In reality, Litzman is the Health Minister of Israel. His Ultra-Orthodox party does not, however, allow its politicians to hold ministerial posts, for ideological reasons. Thus by rebranding his title to 'deputy minister' and not appointing any 'minister', the problem is solved. Just as meaningless semantic distion as changing the name of a disease. Several of the comments posted to the Haaretz article points to the futility of such excersizes. Noone disputes that eating pork is unkosher, but is using the word 'swine' unkosher in itself? Are we not to mention the name of the animal at all? And isn't the term 'Mexico Flu' degrading to Mexicans?, some commentators ask.

Davids states in a comment that
"If a disease is found to originate in camels or hawks, is the Israeli government also going to give it another name, causing possible confusion?
No one is being asked to eat or even touch a pig - it's just the name. This is just religious correctness for its own sake and very, very silly."

Another comment states that
"Thats what happens ... when you sell your political soul and have to include extremists in order to cobble together a coalition government."

A third comment says that
"UNVELIEVABLE! Israel is most likely affected by what could be one of the contemporary worlds worst pandemics, and not only do we not have a health minister, the idiot who is supposed to be responsible has actually wasted incredibly precious time to make this distinction. Litzman is the swine and Netanyahu, who did not demand that a health minister be appointed, is just as contaminated! I feel sick, and I do not think it is from swine flu, yet...."

And so forth...

Newslinks on H1N1: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81
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  1. I have no opinion at all on what the flu strain should be called, which is exactly my point. Litzman sought to relabel the disease with a motivation that wasn't scientific. The point of the post was to illustrate a fragment of the role of ultra-orthodox politics in Israel, not pass judgement on the health issue itself.

  2. And what role does ultra-orthodox politics play in The World Health Organisation(WHO)?

  3. Probably none, WHO wasn't mentioned at all in the posting. The point is that two persons can come to the same conclusion, be it from different starting points. There is a difference between addressing the issue from a scientific point of view and from one of semantic correctness.