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Anti-Israel Conferences
"Israeli Sexual Violence and Aggression... Inherent to the Zionist Settler Colonial Project" According to a London Scholar
25.01.18
Editorial Note

A lecture at the University of Warwick by Dr. Sigrid Vertommen, a researcher at the department of Global Health and Social Medicine at King’s College London, has become the center of controversy.  Her lecture was hosted by the Warwick for Justice in Palestine on January 17, 2017.  Vertommen scholarship concludes that "Zionism’s demographic arithmetic directed at manufacturing a Jewish majority at the expense of Palestinian life".  According to her, Israel is engaged in a "reproductive sabotage framework" [of the Palestinians] because it subsidizes multiple fertilization procedures for its citizens “primarily aimed to serve the reproductive rights of its Jewish population at the expense of the indigenous Palestinian population." 

Vertommen deals primarily with the sexual and reproductive issues of Jewish Israeli and Palestinian women in the context of "settler colonial control and resistance." Yet, according to Vertommen, Israel's military incursions are "particularly gendered and sexualized ones in which discourses of war, sex and reproduction are tightly intertwined. These extremely militarized episodes of Israeli sexual violence and aggression towards Palestinians magnify tendencies that are always present in Palestine/Israel and that are inherent to the Zionist settler colonial project."  For Israel, Vertommen continues, Gazan women "deserve to be annihilated simply because of their threatening ability to reproduce the next generation and to assure the continuance of the Palestinian people." Moreover, "While the dominant Israeli discourse is urging the Israeli army to collectively eliminate the Palestinian population in Gaza" pronatalism "represents the intimate connection between war, demography and reproduction in Israel/Palestine and symbolizes the Israeli urge to reproduce the nation through soldiers."  Israelis are being encouraged to be fruitful and multiply, while "Gazans and Palestinians in general are being encouraged to die as quickly and massively as possible." 

Vertommen also gives a historical brief: "in Historical Palestine that started at the end of the 19th century when Jewish pioneers, inspired by the Zionist ideology and evading European anti-Semitism, immigrated to Palestine and started accumulating indigenous land. This process of territorial expansion was accompanied by a structural dispossession of Palestinian farmers. The Holy Land was to be depopulated from its Palestinian inhabitants and repopulated with Jewish settlers. The raison d’être of the Zionist settler colonial project has been the perpetual de-Palestinization and Judaization of Historical Palestine." 

While she details in length the outstanding success of Israel's state-of-the-art stem cell research, she relies on work such as “Palestine, Project Europe and the (un-)making of the new Jew. In memory of Edward Said”, in Edward Said: the legacy of a public intellectual or scholars such as, the British Israeli-born and former Matzpen activist Prof. Nira Yuval-Davis and Dr. Yali Hashash of Tel Aviv University, Hashash's research opened with the statement "Feminist and sociology researchers in Israel over the last two decades have consistently claimed that Israeli reproductive policy has always been, and remains, an expression of the State's nation-building efforts." Within this framework "Israel's reproductive policy primarily aims at winning a 'demographic race' against the Palestinian Arabs." 

Stretching this argument, Vertommen discusses the "ongoing Zionist settler colonial project" by focusing on the "Zionist demographic politics which aim to consolidate a Jewish majority in a Jewish state and - by consequence – aim to eliminate the indigenous Palestinian population by symbolically preventing it to be born". Vertommen decided not to "frame the Zionist project in Israel/Palestine as a nationalist project, but rather as settler colonial one where - similar to the United States, Australia or Canada - Europeans have settled in an already populated alien territory and where their descendants have remained politically dominant over the indigenous populations."

Vertommen's scholarship should have been expected. She has written her PhD thesis in Ghent University, Belgium, under the guidance of Sami Zemni, professor in political and social sciences. Zemni's work includes, "Luxemburg on Tahrir Square: reading the Arab Revolutions with Rosa Luxemburg's the mass strike" and "The shaping of Islam and Islamophobia in Belgium", among others.  Naturally, Zemni is pro-Palestinian. He co-hosted a conference "Geographies of aid intervention in Palestine" in September 2010 in Birzeit University, sponsored by the Birzeit University Ghent University Vlaamse Interuniversitaire Raad – University Development Cooperation (VLIR-UOS). The conference focused on "the little effectiveness of the aid industry in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories, and even its complicity in sustaining the Israeli occupation."  Similarly to Vertommen's thesis, Zemni also guided the PhD thesis by Omar Jabary Salamanca on "Fabric of life: the infrastructure of settler colonialism and uneven development in Palestine" in 2014, which "represents an attempt to resist and complicate dominant accounts of occupation and development in Palestine but also to make a vital contribution to a broader scholarship in critical urban studies and settler colonialism."

In a newly published research Vertommen repeats her politically-driven and groundless accusations of Israeli fertility and stem cell research aimed at eliminating Palestinians.

Horrified with Vertommen's work, the Jewish community in Britain was fuming over her lecture. Shimon Samuels from the Simon Wiesenthal Center said in an interview that Vertommen's charges resemble the “blood libel” historically leveled at Jews. Taking this argument a step further, Vertommen's scholarship actually falls within the category of antisemitism as described by the Working Definition of Antisemitism which the British Government has adopted in December 2016.  

Such scholarships should be expected to dominate the social sciences and humanities in Western universities in the years to come due to the large number of scholars coming from Arab and Muslim countries who influence students - aimed at debunking Israel's achievements - to focus on "Zionist colonialism" and the "settler colonial state."





JEWS BARRED FROM UK CAMPUS LECTURE ON ISRAELI 'REPRODUCTIVE SABOTAGE'

BY CNAAN LIPHSHIZ/JTA   JANUARY 20, 2018 00:04  
Three Jews who attempted to enter the campus lecture were turned away after their identification cards were inspected at the door.

A British university is responding to complaints that Jews were barred from a lecture alleging Israel was intentionally undermining the fertility of Palestinians.

A spokesman for the University of Warwick, located 90 miles northwest of London, said Wednesday’s 17 event “was organized by group of researchers and students” and “was not organized by the University.”

The university has received a complaint that at least three Jews were barred from the event, which was advertised as open to the public, the spokesman also said.

“A complaint has been made to the University about this event which we are now considering and which we will respond to,” university spokesman Tom Frew told JTA.

David Collier, a journalist and blogger on antisemitism, said he and two other Jews, Mandy Blumenthal and Yochy Davis, were stopped at the entrance to the lecture room by Lisa Tilley, a member of the faculty at Warwick’s School of Politics and International Relations. He wrote that she asked to see their identity cards and refused to admit them into the room after inspecting them.

Contacted by JTA, Tilley said the event in question was attended by “many members of the Jewish community at Warwick.”

According to the Warwick University’s Jewish/Israeli society, the event had a turnout of 10 to 15 people, including two members of that society, and did not feature antisemitic rhetoric, the Jewish Chronicle reported. Tilley wrote in an email to JTA: “I did not personally ask Mr. Collier or his companions for ID.”

“All allegations of anti-Semitism in relation to me, the speaker, or anyone present are completely false.” She added Collier’s “physical and verbal intimidation tactics were very much on display on Wednesday.”

The event was a lecture by Sigrid Vertommen, a researcher from the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at King’s College London. The invitation to the event said that Israel’s policy of subsidizing multiple fertilization procedures for its citizens is “primarily aimed to serve the reproductive rights of its Jewish population at the expense of the indigenous Palestinian population.”

Israel has 1.2 million Arab Palestinian citizens, who are entitled to the same medical benefits as all other citizens.

“Rather than understanding Israel’s fertility policies in terms of rights, choice, peace and reconciliation,” the invitation to the event read, “it will propose a reproductive sabotage framework.”

Vertommen did not reply to a JTA request for comment.

Shimon Samuels, the director of international relations for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said the charge that Israel would “sabotage” Palestinians’ fertility recalled the “blood libel” historically leveled at Jews. The charge betrayed an “anti-Semitic bias” that contributes to making the University of Warwick “the leading university in the United Kingdom in terms of denying Israel’s right to exist,” he told JTA.

In 2013, the university paid $1,380 to an Israeli student, Smadar Bakovic, who complained that a supervisor assigned to her had a bias against her because of her country of birth.

Frew, the university spokesman, did not reply to JTA’s request for a reaction on criticism against the university for hosting Vertommen’s lecture.

=====================================================



JAN17

Anticolonial Resistance is Fertile - Dr Siggie Vertommen

Public  
17 January at 17:0019:00 UTC
S0.28, Social Studies, University of Warwick
 
Anticolonial Resistance is Fertile:
Sperm Smuggling and Birth Strikes in Palestine/Israel

A lecture by Dr Siggie Vertommen (KCL)

The State of Israel is known for its pronatalist stance concerning the usage, regulation and subsidising of assisted reproductive technologies, including IVF, egg donation, surrogacy and PGD in order to guarantee the highly valued right of genetic parenthood for its citizenry. Yet, critical scholars have rightly argued that Israel’s pronatalism is a selective one, primarily aimed to serve the reproductive rights of its Jewish population at the expense of the indigenous Palestinian population. 
This lecture aims to unsettle Israel’s stratified “reproductive-demographic nexus” from a settler colonial and biocapitalist perspective. Rather than understanding Israel’s fertility policies in terms of rights, choice, peace and reconciliation, it will propose a reproductive sabotage framework that takes power, struggle and resistance in/through the reproductive sphere as conceptual and political points of departure. By looking into two particular instances of reproductive sabotage, i.e. sperm smuggling by Palestinian political prisoners and the birth strike promoted by the Gays Against Surrogacy collective, we will explore how practices of (assisted) reproduction can materialise as an equally stratified site of resistance and empowerment in Palestine/Israel.




Sigrid Vertommen

Room 3.1 East Wing
Tel: 020 7848 7893
Sigrid Vertommen is Marie Curie Research Fellow at the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine at King’s College London. Under the supervision of Prof. Barbara Prainsack, she is conducting qualitative research on the political economy of global fertility chains, with an empirical focus on the fertility chain between Israel/Palestine, South Africa and Nepal. She is particularly interested in understanding women’s role and participation in the reproductive bio-economy as egg vendors and surrogates through the lens of reproductive labour.
This research builds further on Sigrid’s PhD research on the political economy of assisted reproduction in Israel/Palestine. In her PhD, obtained in 2017 at Ghent University in Belgium, Sigrid addressed the multiple ways in which reproductive technologies, including IVF, Pergonal, child removals, sperm smuggling, egg donation and transnational surrogacy, have been imagined, materialised and coproduced in Israel/Palestine, at the crossroads of settler colonialism, biocapitalism and bio/necropolitics. Her work has been published in journals including BioSocieties and Science as Culture, and edited volumes such as ‘Mattering: Feminism, Science and Materialism’ edited by Victoria Pitts-Taylor, ‘Assisted reproduction in a European and globalized perspective: notes on the overall framework’ edited by Nina Lykke and Merete Lie, ‘Critical Kinship studies: Kinship (trans)formed’ edited by Charlotte Kroløkke e.a.
From 2010 until 2017, Sigrid was a doctoral researcher and assistant at the Department of Conflict and Development Studies at the Ghent University in Belgium. She taught classes and courses on fieldwork in the Global South, Zionism, Palestine/Israel, gender and globalisation, reproductive labour, sexual politics, biopolitics, assisted reproductive technologies. Sigrid is part of the editorial board of Lava, a Belgian journal for societal critique. She is also active in the Slow Science Movement in Belgium. 


======================================


State of the //ART// of the State : a political economy of assisted reproduction in Palestine/Israel
Sigrid Vertommen
(2017)

abstract
This dissertation aims to unravel Israel’s pronatalist fertility regime as co-produced by ongoing histories of Zionist settler colonialism and biocapitalism. Rather than adhering to dominant culturalist viewpoints on (assisted) reproduction in Israel, which focus on the particularity of fertility in Jewish culture, law and religion, State of the //ART// of the State advances a gendered political economy perspective. This transdisciplinary perspective looks into the sociomaterialities of ART in Israel/Palestine at the intrasecting logic of biocapital accumulation and demographic elimination, by bringing to the fore its mutually constituting power hierarchies of class, race, gender, biology, sociality, life and death. Taking reproductive technologies and practices such as IVF, Pergonal, egg donation and transnational surrogacy as case studies that have been studied through qualitative fieldwork in Israel/Palestine, I have unpacked the gendered political economy approach by consistently looking into four key themes: 1) settler colonial demographies, 2) ART’s life and death func'tion, 3) biocapitalism’s underlying property –and labour regimes and 4) the (re)productive role of women and their bodies. Using ARTs as a looking glass to understand how Zionism transformed from a European ideology into a practice in Palestine/Israel, has exposed the intimate ways through which reproductive technologies and practices have co-produced a settler colonial state, nationalised bodies, racialised populations and ‘pioneering’ bio-markets, ánd vice versa. I concluded that Zionism’s demographic arithmetic directed at manufacturing a Jewish majority at the expense of Palestinian life, has enabled the development of an innovative reproductive-embryonic industry, in which women and their bodies play a crucial role, both as reproducers of the settler nation and as (unrecognised) producers of biovalue. Although the sphere of biological and social reproduction constitutes a powerful perspective to understand Zionist policies of demographic control, elimination and biocapital accumulation, it is also a fertile starting point to explore, imagine and construct anticolonial political horizons.


author
Sigrid Vertommen
promoter
Sami Zemni UGent
organization
year
2017
type
dissertation
publication status
published
subject
 
=======================================================================


“Gaza stripping” Sexualizing Israel’s latest military onslaught on Palestinians
Siggie Vertommen, 31/07/2014

In times of war, don’t forget to have sex”, "Going down to the bomb shelter at night? Not a good reason to look bad". These are just a few of the headlines of articles one can encounter in mainstream Israeli newspapers and social media websites these days.
As one friend aptly phrased it: it seems that Israeli society is getting quite excited and aroused in these “hard” times of war.
In a recently created Facebook group called “Standing with the IDF” Israeli women are posting pictures of themselves while stripping for Gaza in support of Israeli soldiers. In the initial description of the Facebook group, the creators wrote:

“Dear soldiers, we are here to show that we appreciate you and that you do not need to wait for the afterlife to get 72 virgins, but the beautiful Israeli women are waiting for you here, just come back to us, our heroes. Think of these pictures at any difficult time and remember what you are fighting for and what is waiting for you when you come home.”

The sexual and reproductive bodies of women – both Palestinian and Jewish Israeli - have always been important tools of settler colonial control and resistance in Palestine/Israel. Yet, Israel’s recent military incursions to the West Bank and Gaza have shown to be particularly gendered and sexualized ones in which discourses of war, sex and reproduction are tightly intertwined. These extremely militarized episodes of Israeli sexual violence and aggression towards Palestinians magnify tendencies that are always present in Palestine/Israel and that are inherent to the Zionist settler colonial project. I see two main rationales behind this intensified use of gendered discourses of sex and reproduction in Israel’s current onslaught on Gaza and Palestine in general.

The first motivation is a “classical” Orientalist one, in which Zionist discourse objectifies the entire Gazan population into feminine, sensual and weak Others that deserve to be penetrated and conquered. This strategy of feminizing the Orient in order to legitimate its occupation has been repeatedly used by other European colonial powers during the 19th and early 20th century. In the case of Zionist colonialism, the threat of sexual violence is deployed in such a way to articulate the patriarchal subjugation of Gaza’s Palestinian population. One telling example is that of an image on Facebook that was posted by a group of Israeli “citizens in favor of a ground assault” on July 16th, the 8th  day of the air offensive of Operation Protective Edge and two days before the launch of the ground troop offensive. The image showed a seductively looking, veiled woman labeled “Gaza” who was dressing a conservative Muslim dress from the waist up, but was naked from the waist down. The Hebrew text accompanying the image reads: “Bibi, finish inside this time! Signed, citizens in  favor of a ground assault.” 
 In his excellent article on “Israel’s War Against Gaza’s Women & Their Bodies” David Sheen explained that the Hebrew word that was used was “tigmor”

which means both finishing and ejaculating in Hebrew. He sees this jeu de mots as a way to promote war while alluding to rape.

Another significant story in Israel’s latest military assault on Palestinians is that of Mordechai Kedar, an Israeli professor at Bar-Ilan University and a scholar of Arabic literature with an expertise in the Palestinian population. On July 1st, during Israel’s Operation Brothers Keepers in the West Bank, he declared during a radio-interview that raping the wives and mothers of Palestinian combatants is the only way to deter terrorist attacks.
The only way to deter terrorist is when they know that their sisters or mothers will be raped if captured... they will go back home to protect their sisters' honor.. this is the Middles East.. this is the culture we live in.” 
 
Instead of firing Professor Kedar for inciting war crimes, Bar-llan University defended him with the following statement:
Dr. Kedar did not call to fight terror but with legal and moral means.. in his words he wanted to illustrate that there is no way to fight terrorism and gave rape as an exaggerated example. Dr Kedar described the bitter reality of the Middle East and the lack of means of a modern and liberal state to fight terror and suiciders.

 A second important rational behind the remarkable usage of reproductive and sexual discourses during Israel’s latest military operations is demography. By defining itself as a Jewish state, Israel has always been greatly concerned by the demographic balance between its Jewish settler and non-Jewish indigenous population. The demographic “problem”  has gained an almost metaphysical status in Israel, and is being meticulously monitored and widely discussed by demographers, politicians and policy makers who fear to be demographically “outnumbered”. The prevailing demographic anxiety is further fuelled by the fact that Palestinians in general still have higher birth rates than Jewish Israelis (although there are important differences among Jewish Israelis), a trend which is often framed as a velvet holocaust or a demographic intifada in Israeli discourse. In its ongoing attempt to consolidate a Jewish majority in a Jewish state, Israel has adopted wide variety of notoriously pronatalist policies and discourses that are meant to encourage its Jewish settler population to be fruitful and multiply” - the first commandment in the Torah - while simultaneously attempting to reduce the indigenous Palestinians and particularly their reproductive capacities. In times of intensified military confrontations these reproductive binaries become extremely outspoken in Israeli discourse. In 2008, after the military attack on the Gaza Strip, Israeli soldiers designed t-shirts portraying a pregnant Palestinian woman in the crosshairs of a gun, accompanied by the slogan: “One shot, two kills”.

 Now again, during Operation Protective Edge, Gazan women are increasingly being depicted as hyper fertile, premodern and irresponsible breeders that deserve to be annihilated simply because of their threatening ability to reproduce the next generation and to assure the continuance of the Palestinian people. On July 1st, while the Israeli troops were raiding the West Bank and collectively punishing its Palestinian population in search of the three missing settler youths, Member of Knesset and leading Israel politician Ayelet Shaked posted the following quote on her Facebook page:

Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. 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.” 
 
Shaked’s quote has been perceived as a call for genocide, and a quite prophetic one seen the fact that a sizeable number of the up to now 1380 Palestinian casualties caused by Israeli attacks on Gaza are women and children.
In the meantime, videos of Israeli demonstrators cheering for “Gaza’s empty schools” are appearing on Facebook.
During a support demonstration for Israel’s attack on Gaza on July 26th in Tel Aviv, Israeli youths were chanting

“Tomorrow there’s no school in Gaza. 
They don’t have any children left 
In Gaza there’s no studying
No children are left there Olé, olé, olé-olé-olé.” 
 
While the dominant Israeli discourse is urging the Israeli army to collectively eliminate the Palestinian population in Gaza, it is encouraging Israeli Jews to be as fertile as possible. On July 16th, the Israeli sex doctor Ruth Westheimer gave a lecture in Tel Aviv, advising Israelis to dedicate enough time for sex in times of war. On July 12th, the 4th day of the Gaza onslaught, the popular Israeli family rights organization New Family dedicated its monthly newsletter to the promotion of a biological will for soldiers leaving for Gaza. The Biological Will is a legal invention by New Family Organization that legalizes the posthumous retrieval of a man's sperm or a woman's egg cells for the purpose of creating a genetic offspring. In the words of New Family’s founder Irit Rosenblum “the Biological Will“ synthesizes the desire for a biological legacy with the opportunity provided by reproductive technologies into a genetic and demographic insurance policy. In 2011 Rosenblum was legally responsible for the delivery of the world’s first and only child to be born of posthumous maternity by Biological Will. Thanks to Rosenblum the parents of  Sergeant Keivan Cohen, who died in combat in Gaza in 2002, won the right to designate a woman to conceive with their son’s posthumously extracted sperm after proving in court that he wished to father children. Although the Biological Will is not exclusively designed for soldiers, it is particularly popular among them. During the 2006 invasion of Lebanon more than 100 Israeli soldiers had filled out a biological will before going into combat against Hezbollah. Since then she has been lobbying to establish a sperm bank specially designated for the Israel Defense Forces soldiers. In the latest newsletters she urges soldiers to particularly take into consideration the differential in population growth between Palestinians (3% per year) and Israelis (1.5% per year) before going to war in Gaza. As such, the Biological Will represents the ultimate symbol of Israel’s militarized pronatalism. It represents the intimate connection between war, demography and reproduction in Israel/Palestine and symbolizes the Israeli urge to reproduce the nation through soldiers. While Israelis are being encouraged to be fruitful and multiply, Gazans and Palestinians in general are being encouraged to die as quickly and massively as possible. This demographic duality has been particularly outspoken during Israel’s latest military attacks on Gaza, but even in times of so called peace it is inherently ingrained in the Zionist settler colonial reality in Palestine/Israel.

BIO

Siggie Vertommen is an assistant at the Middle East and North Africa Research Group of the Department of Conflict and Development Studies at the Ghent University in Belgium. She is conducting doctoral research on “The political economy of assisted reproduction in Israel/Palestine”. Within her research she focuses on the ways in which assisted reproductive technologies have emerged as a crucial site of settler colonial bio-politics and bio-economics in Israel/Palestine.

Quotes

The sexual and reproductive bodies of women – both Palestinian and Jewish Israeli - have always been important tools of settler colonial control and resistance in Palestine/Israel. Yet, Israel’s recent military incursions to the West Bank and Gaza have shown to be particularly gendered and sexualized ones in which discourses of war, sex and reproduction are tightly intertwined.

=======================================================

https://kclpure.kcl.ac.uk/portal/files/78227829/genealogy_of_israels_reproductive_industrial_complex.pdf

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Citation for published version (APA):
Vertommen, S. (2017). From the pergonal project to Kadimastem: A genealogy of Israel’s reproductive-industrial
complex. Biosocieties, 12(2), 282-306.
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Download date: 05. Oct. 2017

Sigrid Vertommen, MENARG, Ghent University
2016 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1745-8552 BioSocieties 1–25
‘Author’s Accepted Manuscript’
1
From the Pergonal Project to Kadimastem
A genealogy of Israel’s reproductive-industrial complex
Abstract
In the Israeli “start-up nation” biotechnology has emerged as one of the most thriving
knowledge-intensive industries. Particularly the med-tech and repro-tech sector are widely
regarded as world-class in their ability to develop experimental therapies and medicines based
on topnotch “pioneering” biomedical research. These developments have rightly been
attributed to the neoliberal turn of the late seventies when Israel started to position itself as
significant player in the global health and research market. By exploring the (dis)continuities
between Pergonal, a fertility drug developed in the late 1950s by the Israeli scientist Bruno
Lunenfeld and the Swiss-Italian pharmaceutical company Serono, and the experimental stem
cell therapies that are currently being developed by the Israeli biotech company Kadimastem,
this paper argues however that a much older, but still ongoing history of Zionist settler
colonial warfare in Palestine/Israel also lies behind the emergence of Israel’s flourishing
reproductive-embryonic industry. A Zionist demographic logic that aims to consolidate a
Jewish majority in a Jewish state has created fertile conditions for the emergence of a
reproductive-industrial complex in which the interests of a pronatalist Jewish state and a
biomedical establishment - consisting of academic entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, biotech
companies and pharmaceutical giants - have coalesced. The bodies of Israeli women play a
pivotal role in this process, not only as reproducers of the settler nation but also as providers
of the raw biological materials that are needed to produce experimental research results and to
generate surplus bio-value.

Sigrid Vertommen, MENARG, Ghent University
2016 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1745-8552 BioSocieties 1–25
‘Author’s Accepted Manuscript’
2
Keywords: Palestine/Israel, reproductive-industrial complex, bio-capitalism, Zionism, settler
colonialism, demography, stem cell technologies, Pergonal
Israel’s start up nation: The Promised Land of Science and Technology
“Falafel, high-tech and biomed may be the three best things to come out of Israel.”
Promotion for Israel’s annual Innovation Conference
It is a widely accepted fact that Israel has one of the most innovative high-tech and
biotech sectors in the world. Israel houses the world’s highest density of start-up companies.
With half of its exports stemming from high-tech products such as military equipments,
(bio)pharmaceuticals, medical devices and information technology, Israel’s industries in
computer science, life science and military and defense have become crucial engines of
economic growth (Bichler and Nitzan, 2002). Moreover, Israel’s high-tech and biotech sector
absorbs huge amounts of surplus capital, mostly stemming from investments from venture
capital funds (Rosenberg, Haaretz, 2015) i. Particularly Israel’s med-tech sector is widely
regarded as world-class in its ability to develop innovative therapies and medicines based on
experimental biomedical research. Israel is number one for patents in medical devices per
capita and ranks second in bio-pharma patents per capita worldwide (USPTO, 2013).
Blockbuster drugs such as Rebif, Gonal-F, Copaxone and Azilect were developed in Israel.
This bio-boom has been made possible through generous government funding. At a record
rate 4.4% of its gross domestic product, Israel leads the world in expenditures on civilian
research and development with biomedical research being a central sphere of investment
(OECD, 2011; Messer Yaron, 2011) ii. The percentage of the budget of the Office of Chief
Science allocated to the life sciences doubled from 14% in 2000 to 28.5% in 2013 (OCS,

Sigrid Vertommen, MENARG, Ghent University
2016 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1745-8552 BioSocieties 1–25
‘Author’s Accepted Manuscript’
3
2014). Israel’s techno-scientific success is reflected in society’s overall positive and fearless
attitude towards science and technology. A national survey of the public's perception of
professions in 2014 indicated doctors, engineers and scientists as the three most prestigious
professions in Israel iii. Moreover, as Prainsack and Firestine (2006: 33) have observed, there
is a remarkable absence of public controversies on scientific practices such as therapeutic
cloning, genetic engineering and sex selection, resulting in a very lenient regulatory S&T
framework regarding.
In spite of being so fundamental to its national prosperity, Israel’s intimate relation with
science and technology has attracted relatively little research attention with only a few notable
exceptions (Golan, 2004). In their patriotic bestseller “The start-up nation: The story of
Israel’s economic miracle” Dan Senor and Saul Singer (2011:15) addressed the question why
Israel - a young country of 7.1 million people, with no natural resources, surrounded by
enemies and in a perpetual state of war since its creation – has succeeded in emerging as the
high tech miracle of the world. Unfortunately, in their explanatory answers they strongly
emphasize the uniqueness of Jewish-Israeli character idiosyncrasies, epitomized in concepts
such as chutzpah or bitzu’ism which can be explained as “a kind of audacity and pragmatism
at the heart of the pioneering ethos and Israel’s entrepreneurial drive” (Id: 106). Similarly,
Noah Efron (2011) points out to the historic achievements of generations of Jewish scientists
with their Yiddischer Kupf or Jewish genius. Other, more critical scholars have understood
Israel‘s techno-scientific strengths to be co-produced by the political and socio-economic
circumstances in which they were anchored. Prainsack and Firestine (2006) argued, for
instance, that Israel has always emphasized the role of research and technology as an
indispensable tool for national survival in a hostile environment. Dani Filc (2005) has
attributed the astronomic growth of Israel’s life science industry to the post-Fordist/neoliberal

Sigrid Vertommen, MENARG, Ghent University
2016 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1745-8552 BioSocieties 1–25
‘Author’s Accepted Manuscript’
4
turn of the late seventies when Israel started to position itself as significant player in the
global health and research market. Indeed, since the transition from a Fordist to a neoliberal
world economy, the capitalization of bare biological life has become a very lucrative
globalized business (Waldby, 2002, 2006, 2008; Rose, 2007; Cooper, 2006, 2008). This paper
argues however that, although the neoliberal turn certainly has intensified the growth of
Israel’s bio-economy, there is a much older, yet still ongoing history of Zionist settler
colonialism and bio-capitalism in Palestine/Israel that has enabled the emergence of Israel’s
innovation-based biotech industry, particularly its reproductive-embryonic industry which
will be the subject of this paper (Rajan, 2006; Nahman, 2013). From a gendered political
economy’ perspective, I will contend that from the early 20th century onwards a Zionist
demographic logic aiming to consolidate a Jewish majority in a Jewish state has created
favourable conditions for the development of an experimental reproductive industry (Nahman,
2013; Prainsack 2006; Prainsack & Wahlberg, 2013). Before moving into the actual analysis,
a short note is at place on how the proposed gendered political economy framework will be
conceptualized and operationalized.
Accumulation and elimination: a fertile double logic in the political economy of
Zionism
Drawing on the work of Helmreich (2007) and Goven and Pavone (2014), I will not
conceptualize Israel’s reproductive-industrial complex as a mere techno-scientific or
economic formation, but rather as a political project driven by state –and global market-
making practices and shaped by histories of settler colonialism and bio-capitalism. Both
settler colonialism and bio-capitalism are socio-historical systems that - despite their local
particularities – are governed by a certain structural logic. In the case of settler colonialism
Patrick Wolfe (1999, 2006, 2007) refers to a demographic logic of elimination of the

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indigenous population as a way to repopulate the country with the newly arrived settler
population. Wolfe conceptualizes Zionist settler invasion not so much as an event that ended
in 1948 with the creation of the State of Israel or that started in 1967 with the military
occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East-Jerusalem, but rather as a demographic structure
that has not ceased, but has taken many new shapes since it moved on from the era of frontier
homicide and mass expulsion. Indeed, since the early beginnings the Zionist movement
understood that in order for Israel to become a Jewish state, at least the majority of the
population should be Jewish. As such, the presence of Palestinians, within and outside the
borders of what became Israel in 1948, has always posed an existential threat to the Jewish
collective body. Israel has attempted to establish and consolidate a Jewish majority in the
Holy Land in two significant ways. First and foremost, by installing a strong migration policy
to attract Jews from the Diaspora, crystallized in the Law of Return of 1952 which gives every
Jew in the world the right to “ascend” to Israel (aliyah) and become an Israeli citizen, and by
simultaneously denying Palestinian refugees their Right to Return. Secondly, by issuing
pronatalist reproductive health policies that would stimulate an “internal aliyah”. Israel’s
pronatalist regime has been institutionalized through multiple funds and committees that
provided monetary incentives and social benefits for (re)producing large families, such as the
1949 Heroine Award for mothers with at least ten children, the 1962 Committee for Natality
Problems, the 1968 Demographic Centre with its Fund for Encouraging Birth and the 2002
Israel Council on Demography (Yuval-Davis, 1993, 1995; Birenbaum-Carmeli 2007, 2010).
The same pronatalism has been detected in Israel’s assisted reproductive policies.
Reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF), intracytoplasmic sperm
injection (ICSI), donor insemination (DI), surrogacy, egg donation, egg freezing and prenatal
genetic diagnosis (PGD) are not only widely accepted and exceptionally popular in Israel, but
most of them are generously state-sponsored iv. In contrast to this remarkable support for

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enabling reproductive technologies, treatments that potentially restrict family size, such as
family planning services and contraceptives remain largely under subsidized in Israel
(Portuguese, 1998; Balabanova and Simonstein, 2009). Moreover, abortion is still illegal,
except for therapeutic reasons v.
Next to being a settler colonial project, Zionism was (and still is) also a capitalist enterprise in
Palestine/Israel. The underlying structure of capitalism is one of endless capital accumulation
and the ongoing commodification of everything (Wallerstein, 2003). Bio-capitalism in
particular has been defined as a new economic model built on the speculative promise of
creating commodities from existing forms of bare life (Rajan, 2007). Scholars as Cooper
(2008) and Benner and Löfgren (2007) have posited how epistemic turns in the field of
molecular biology, have coincided with global macro-economic transitions to neoliberal
modes of accumulation that attempted to resolve the Fordist-Keynesian crisis of the seventies
through the creation of competitive workfare states vi. These mutually constitutive transitions
have transformed biomedical research into a profitable area of investment for the volatile
forms of financial capital that have dominated the global economy since the 1970’s (Harvey,
2005; Cooper, 2008).
Israel’s financial crisis of the late 1970’s paved the way for the introduction of the New
Economic Policy (NEP) as a way to radically break with Zionist Fordism-Keynesianism, by
encouraging the privatisation of state-led industries and services, the deregulation of financial
markets and the export of high tech commodities, with a strong emphasis on military and
biotechnological products. There is no question that Israel’s neoliberal turn of the late
seventies has indeed bolstered the growth of a bio-economy. I argue, however, that a much
older (yet still ongoing) history of Zionist settler colonialism lies behind the emergence of
Israel’s biotech industry. In their “Global Political Economy of Israel” (2002, p.17) Nitzan

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and Bichler rightly pointed out that “Israel’s recent neoliberal phase was not at all a
structural break, but rather the latest step in the long process of Israeli capitalist development
which began not in the 1990s, but almost a century earlier, the initial Jewish colonization of
Palestine.” I argue, in similar fashion, that concordant with the Zionist endeavor to create a
Jewish state in Palestine, a (bio)capitalist logic of accumulation and a demographic logic of
elimination have converged in the emergence of a reproductive-embryonic industrial complex
in which the interests of a pronatalist Jewish state and a biomedical establishment - consisting
of academic entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, biotech companies and pharmaceutical giants -
have coalesced. This argument will be gradually developed throughout this paper. First, by
elaborating on the quintessential historical role of science and technology in the creation of a
Jewish nation-state, and by focusing on the therapeutic importance of reproductive health
technologies for the Zionist demographic enterprise in Palestine/Israel. Then, I will trace the
genealogy of Israel’s reproductive-embryonic industry from a gendered political economy
perspective by exploring two of its techno-scientific apparatuses (Barad 2003), both situated
in a particular time-space frame in Israeli history. The first case study is Pergonal, a fertility
drug developed in the late 1950s by the Israeli scientist Bruno Lunenfeld and the Swiss-Italian
pharmaceutical company Serono. The second case study concerns Kadimastem, an Israeli
biotech company founded by the Israeli scientist and bio-entrepreneur Michel Revel that is
currently developing stem cell technologies dedicated to regenerative health therapies and
drug screening. Apart from unraveling the historical context in which these scientific
developments emerged, particular attention will be paid to three key themes that I consider to
be fundamental in a political economy analysis of reproductive medicine in Palestine/Israel.
First of all, I will focus on the impact of a settler colonial demographic arithmetic on the
emergence of certain experimental reproductive-embryonic technologies in Palestine/Israel.
Secondly, attention will be paid to the modes of accumulation in which these technologies

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have been produced, with a strong emphasis on the underpinning property and labour regimes
and to the intimate collaborations that were forged between the Jewish state, Israeli academia
and industry in the production of these technologies. Thirdly, I will focus on the essential role
that gender hierarchies have played in this process. Even though political economy analyses
often tend to overlook issues of gender, I argue that Israel’s bio-economy is particularly
gendered, and that its reproductive-industrial complex could have never been produced
without the crucial contribution of Israeli women, as both reproducers of the settler nation and
producers of what Catherine Waldby (2001) has termed bio-value, i.e. the production of a
surplus out of socially constructed biological vitality which was obtained through the
biotechnical reconfiguration of living processes vii. In the final section, I will explore the
discursive-material (dis)continuities between Serono’s fertility drug and Kadimastem’s stem
cell therapy in the emergence of a reproductive-embryonic complex in Israel, taking into
account the aforementioned key notions.
This paper proposes a genealogical method as a way to re-evaluate the existing discourses on
the emergence of Israel’s bio-economy. It is based on fieldwork conducted in Palestine/Israel
from 2012 until 2014, which largely consisted of 1) archival work on the Pergonal Project in
the Israeli State Archive in West-Jerusalem and in the personal archive of Bruno Lunenfeld,
2) a close reading of Israeli policy documents and the websites and promotional material of
technology transfer companies, stem cell companies 3) participatory observations during
biomedical conferences and fairs in Israel and 4) more than 70 semi-structured interviews
with fertility researchers/doctors, stem cell researchers, officials from the Ministry of Health,
representatives of feminist organizations, CEO’s from biotech companies, technology transfer
companies and venture capital funds. The two interviews with the protagonists of this paper,
Bruno Lunenfeld and Michel Revel, take a central position.

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1. Zionism’s techno-scientific history: a discursive-material love story
We are in a desert, we are fighting against Nature, we don’t have resources, so what is left? Science and technology.”
Michel Revel, founder and chief scientist of Kadimastem (interview Nes Ziona, 16/07/2012)
Science and technology have always been of vital importance for Zionism, both in the
development of Zionist thought and ideology as in the practical materialization of the Zionist
project in Palestine from the end of the 19th century onwards (Golan, 2004; Efron, 2007). In
his utopic novel Altneueland (1904) Theodor Herzl, the founding father of political Zionism
put forward a blueprint for the New Jewish Society, in which he explicitly linked Western
ideas of progress and modernism to the advancement of a techno-scientific culture in Eretz
Israel (Davidovitch and Seidelman, 2004; Efron, 2007). Noah Efron (2007: 421) rightly
argued that Zionism’s intimate relation with science has always served the idea that “Jewish
settlement of Palestine was a Western project flush with Western ideals and committed to
advancing those ideals in the East”. As such, the discourse of science and technology was
cleverly deployed to legitimize the Jewish colonization of Palestine, which most Zionists
erroneously described as ‘terra nullius’, an empty, barren and primitive land, in dire need of
an enlightened intervention. Universities and research institutions, such as the Weizmann
Institute of Science in Rehovot, the Hebrew University and Hadassah Medical Centre in
Jerusalem and the Technion in Haifa - all established during the first half of the 20th century -
served as the cornerstones of this scientific colonialism. Through many of its different
disciplines these scientific institutions assisted in producing the necessary knowledge for the
consolidation of Zionist title to the land. Cartographers who began to explore and map the
country, started replacing the Arabic names of Palestinian villages, mountains and rivers with
Hebrew names. New agricultural techniques were introduced, encouraging the kibbutzniks to
redeem the Land of Israel and to make the desert bloom (Efron, 2007).

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Besides offering a justifying narrative for the ongoing colonization of Palestine, scientism
also had an important internal fun'ction within Zionist ideology and practice. Science and
technology were of crucial therapeutic and diagnostic importance in the creation of the so
called New Jew or Sabra, referring to a healthy, masculine and strong Israeli-born Jew who
symbolized the collective rebirth of the Jews after centuries of “diasporic” degeneration
(Almog, 2000; Weiss, 2002) Analyzing the relation between Zionism and health, Davidovitch
(2004) concluded that Zionism’s remedy for the psychopathology of the diasporic Jew was
the return to Palestine, where a healthy Jewish national homeland could be created.
Consequently, medicine and public health, and particularly reproductive health and fertility,
were of immense importance for the successful realization of the Zionist undertaking in
Palestine. In the early 20th century, Zionist health missions founded mother and child clinics
to provide basic reproductive health services in newly established settlements (Shvarts, 2008;
Filc, 2009). In her historical overview of Israeli researchers’ contribution to the field of
reproductive medicine, Daphna Birenbaum-Carmeli (2010:57-59) aptly described how
fertility emerged as an important field of research in Israel. Particularly in the 1940s and
1960s Israeli researchers emerged as distinguished figures in the field of reproductive
medicine, contributing significantly to global fertility research, which “has generated a
generalized feeling of national pride in Israel”. Bernhard Zondek, for instance, has been
called the greatest gynaecologist of his times (Birenbaum-Carmeli, 2010; Lunenfeld, 2013).
Zondek, one of the thousands of German Jewish physicians and scientists who reached
Palestine in the 1930s, has been celebrated for his discovery of gonadotropins, protein
hormones that stimulate estrogenic hormones and thereby ovulation viii. As the prototype of
the Zionist medical pioneer who combined scientific excellence with settler nation-building,
Zondek inspired many generations of Israeli fertility specialists such as David Serr, Rabau,

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Halbrecht, Joseph Asherman, Bruno Lunenfeld, Neri Laufer, Shlomo Maschiach and Joshua
Dor to follow his revolutionary footsteps.
Israel’s scientific pre-eminence in fertility research has often been explained by underlining
the central importance of reproduction in Judaism, Jewish culture and tradition. Scholars,
often anthropologists or sociologists of science, have referred to the first religious
commandment (mitzvah) that prescribes Jews to ‘be fruitful and multiply and replenish the
earth’ and to the compatibility of Jewish law (Halakha) with the scientific grounds of fertility
research. Others pointed out to the violent history of the Jews in Europe and the virulent
waves of anti-Semitism they faced culminating in the Shoah, through which individual
procreation increasingly became a matter of collective Jewish survival (Kahn, 2000; Weiss,
2002; Gooldin & Shalev, 2006; Hashiloni-Dolev, 2006; Remmenick, 2006, 2011; Shalev,
2010, 2011, 2012; Birenbaum-Carmeli, 2004, 2008, 2010; Balabanova & Simonstein, 2010;
Gooldin, 2013). While these cultural narratives are obviously crucial for understanding Israeli
pronatalism, they often tend to reproduce hegemonic accounts of reproduction that disregard
the Zionist state’s inherent stratified and exclusionary reproductive practices, particularly
towards Palestinians. This paper proposes a gendered political economy perspective as a way
to overcome these sometimes myopic analyses. Building further on the work of Jacqueline
Portuguese (1998), Rhoda Kanaaneh (2002), Yali Hashash (2010) and particularly Michal
Nahman (2006, 2008a, 2008b, 2013), it focuses on the close entanglements of Zionist settler
colonialism and (bio-)capitalism in Palestine/Israel as a way to further understand the
emergence of an academic-industrial fertility complex. In what follows, I will trace the
lineages of Israel’s reproductive-embryonic industry by exploring the (dis)continuities
between Serono’s Pergonal and Kadimastem’s stem cell therapies, with a strong focus on

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three key notions, i.e. settler colonial demographies, property –and labour regimes and the
(re)productive role of women.
2. The Pergonal Project: turning urine into babies and gold
“We are devoted to the improvement, promotion and nurturing of life”
Merck-Serono.
In the introduction to a Special Issue on “50 years of Gonadotropin Therapy” in the
Journal of Reproductive Medicine and Endocrinology (2013: 5) dedicated to Bruno
Lunenfeld, the editorial board wrote: “Without the pioneering work of Professor Bruno
Lunenfeld the development of the first urinary human menopausal gonadotropins would not
have been possible. He gave the impetus for the development of further preparations (…) and
procedures in hormonal stimulation treatments such as IVF and ICSI”. Born in Vienna in
1927 to a wealthy family of Jewish lawyers, Lunenfeld escaped Austria’s surging anti-
Semitism in 1938 with the help of the Jewish Agency. In 1940 Lunenfeld first set foot in
Mandatory Palestine, but soon after he left to study Medicine in Geneva, where he - together
with his supervisor Hubert De Watteville - discovered that menopausal urine contains high
amounts of gonadotropins, the ovulation-enabling hormones discovered by Bernhard Zondek.
In 1954 Lunenfeld and De Watteville demonstrated that it was possible to isolate the
gonadotropins from menopausal urine through the kaolin-acetone methodix, a groundbreaking
scientific discovery that could enable infertile women to ovulate. Yet, for this to ever happen,
a pharmaceutical partner was needed and this is when – according to Lunenfeld - the first
problems occurred (interview Tel Aviv, 27/08/2013):

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We very quickly published the research results in the Swiss journal Experiencia, for
the simple reason that at that time we believed that medicine should be public for
everybody, that it was still something ethical, for humanity and not for profit. Then we
discovered that the problem was that no industry was interested in doing this, because
the information was public and there was no possibility to have a patent.”
Moreover, pharmaceutical companies were reluctant to logistically engage in an such an
experimental project that depended on enormous amounts of urine donations and thus
required safety precautions (Lunenfeld, 2013:2). Serono, an Italian pharmaceutical company
founded in 1906 by Cesare Serono, was the third company that was approached by Lunenfeld.
In 1958 Lunenfeld was invited by Serono’s research director Piero Donini to give a
presentation to the board of directors in Italy. Lunenfeld (interview Tel Aviv, 27/08/2014)
recalled:
Everybody applauded after my presentation, but then the director Fabio Bertarelli
said that Serono was a pharmaceutical firm and not a pissoir. I’m not sure if I started
crying or not, but I knew that my dream was finished”.
Yet, on his way out Lunenfeld was approached by a man who introduced himself as Prince
Giulio Pacelli. Prince Pacelli was the nephew of Pope Pius XII whom he represented on
Serono’s board. Since 1952 the Vatican’s Banco de Santo Spirito had been the majority
shareholder in Serono. After inviting Lunenfeld for a short stay in Rome to discuss the
logistics of the large-scale urine collection, Pacelli gave the same lecture to Serono’s board as
Lunenfeld, but he added one crucial sentence: “My uncle, the pope, is ready to collect urine in
old age homes of nuns, and will give it to you for free”. After the continued flow of bio-value
in menopausal urine was guaranteed, Serono’s board agreed to start the production of what
became Pergonal.

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The production of Pergonal relied on the donation of millions of liters of urine provided by
overall more than 110.000 post-menopausal women who were not only found in Pope Pius
XII’s old age homes for nuns, but also in Argentina, Brazil and Israel
(http://www.emdserono.com). Lunenfeld managed to arrange urine collections from three Mal
Ben Homes, Jewish nursing homes for the elderly and the disabled in Israel. Even though as
primary generators of gonadotropinal bio-value, the elderly women made a crucial
contribution to the development of Pergonal, they were not reimbursed for their donation. As
Lunenfeld remembered:
If you pay the women for the urine they may add water to increase the volume and to
get more money, so you can’t pay for the urine. But the women donated with pleasure,
they became very happy while doing this. They were so interested that they could help
making babies, that they made clothes for babies and gave presents.
An Israeli newspaper article on “Pergonal, the magical drug” from 1965 (Weinstock, Maariv,
01/02/1965) mentioned how the old women even asked for a daily portion of watermelon as a
way to increase urination. One of the research participants described how they once organized
a humoristic theater play on Pergonal, highlighting the fact that – despite their old age- they
were still able to increase the size of the population (Weinstock, Maariv, 01/02/1965).
This demographic consideration was precisely the reason why the Pergonal Project was met
with such great interest by David Ben-Gurion, then Israel’s Prime Minister and a notorious
proponent of maintaining a Jewish majority in Israel by encouraging Jewish natality. As he
once famously declared (1971: 839): “Any Jewish women who (…) does not bring into the
world at least four healthy children is shirking her duty to the nation, like a soldier who
evades military service”. This settler colonial demographic arithmetic constituted the solid
underpinning of the State of Israel’s engagement in the development of Pergonal (Birenbaum-

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Carmeli, 2010). Ben-Gurion got involved in the Pergonal Project through Carmi, the director
of Ikapharm, at that time Israel's second largest drug manufacturer after Teva. Carmi was a
mutual friend of both Bruno Lunenfeld and David Ben-Gurion, who became interested in
Pergonal as “a demographic project of national priority” (interview Lunenfeld, Tel Aviv,
27/08/2013). The proposed deal was that Israel would provide Serono with the post-
menopausal urine from female residents of old age homes collected by Ikapharm. In
exchange, Israel would receive Pergonal free of charge, a deal which lasted at least until 1966
(Birenbaum-Carmeli, 2010). From then on Pergonal was commercialized and Israel started
importing it from Serono through Ikapharm, although at a very low price x. In Lunenfeld’s
(interview, Tel Aviv, 27/08/2013) words:
“The workers of Ikapharm collected the urine from the Mal Ben Homes and we send it
to Serono. In return we got free ampules of Pergonal to conduct the clinical trials in
Israel. In 1966 Serono started charging Israel for Pergonal. So Carmi went to Ben-
Gurion, who was always interested in internal immigration, and Ben-Gurion arranged
Pergonal to be free for infertile women and men who wanted to be treated for
infertility.”
In 1968 Ben-Gurion promoted the establishment of a Center for Demographic Problems
which was funded from the Prime Minister’s Office budget. The goal of the Demographic
Centre was to “systematically create a psychologically favorable climate, such that natality
will be encouraged and stimulated, seen that an increase in natality in Israel is crucial for the
whole future of the Jewish people” (Portuguese, 1998). Besides designing public education
campaigns to promote an increase in Jewish fertility, offering low-interest loan schemes for
young couples who planned for another child, the Centre for Demographic Problems was also

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charged with the task of distributing Pergonal freely to infertile couples xi. Lunenfeld
(interview, Tel Aviv, 27/08/2013) recalled how this odd arrangement lasted for several years.
The interesting thing was that until 1970 the money for the Pergonal came from the
Prime Minister’s Office. Only after quite a number of years, someone started
wondering why a fertility medicine was paid through the Prime Minister’s Office and
then they transferred it to the Ministry of Health”.
Advertisements in Israeli newspapers and commercials on the radio promoted Pergonal as a
magic medicine solving all types of fertility problems”, even though it was not yet clinically
proven which types of infertility Pergonal actually tackled xii. Many infertile women presented
themselves at Tel Hashomer Hospital in Tel Aviv, where between 1959 and 1963 Lunenfeld
had started conducting clinical experiments with Pergonal. Serono had offered and paid him a
fully equipped laboratory at Tel Hashomer to perform these clinical trials. As Lunenfeld
proudly said: “I never had one single share of Serono, and I never got one cent for Pergonal,
but I got my laboratory.” At that time there were no bio-ethics committees to approve the
clinical trials of drugs. When Lunenfeld asked Chaim Sheba, then director of Tel Hashomer,
how to proceed with Pergonal, he was instructed the following:
I was told to first inject it to myself, take my temperature, if it rises then it needed
further purification. We did this until we got something that was pure enough and
didn’t increase my temperature. Then he permitted me to use it on three female
patients. The treatment was a success, they all ovulated after stimulation with
Pergonal”.
Israeli women did not only contribute to the development of Pergonal by providing post-
menopausal urine, but also by serving as experimental trial subjects. The first infertile woman

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in the world to become pregnant after being clinically treated with Pergonal was a 27 year old
Israeli woman (Lunenfeld, Sulimovici and Rabau, 1962). The media referred to her in heroic
terms as “a brave and courageous Jewish ola” or migrant from Latin America (Livneh,
Haaretz, 2002). Doctor Rabau, Head of Tel Hashomer’s Gynaecology Department that
worked closely together with Lunenfeld’s Endocrinology Department, was impressed by the
patient’s obedience:
It took many tests to find the right protocol, but the patient showed a lot of endurance
and did everything that she was told to do. Every day for two years she had to bring
her urine to Tel Hashomer labs” (Aviam, Maariv 19/3/1963)xiii.
After 12 series of treatments she got pregnant and eventually gave birth to a daughter.
However, not all women that participated with the Pergonal experiments were so fortunate.
The first woman to die of ovarian hyperstimulation was also an Israeli. After her death it
quickly became evident that ovulation induction with gonadotropins has an increased risk of
multiple pregnancies and ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome xiv.
In 1963, after the clinical experiments were concluded in Tel Hashomer Hospital, Pergonal
was registered as a certified drug. Initially, the drug was not a big commercial success.
Lunenfeld remembered a hysteric telephone call from Serono’s director Fabio Bertarelli
asking for his help in boosting the sales. Bertarelli had not sold one gram of Pergonal, so he
convinced Lunenfeld to travel to Italy for a promotion tour at Italian universities, which
illustrate how crucial the role of research institutions was in the development of Pergonal.
“In ten days we gave 25 lectures at 25 different universities. People became interested
in Pergonal based on the lectures we gave. Finally, in Rome I got the honour
membership of the Italian Gynaecology Society - I was the youngest ever - and Fabio

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Bertarelli made his first million (laughs). Serono made the money, but I made my
name and international fame.(…) I remember lively when I told my father that I
wanted to become a doctor, he advised me to become a chemist and make gold out of
shit. In the end I became a doctor and I extracted gold from urine.”
In 1978 Louise Brown, the world’s first test tube baby, was conceived with the help of
Pergonal. Because of the introduction of gonadotropin protocols in IVF and ICSI the sales of
Pergonal began to skyrocket. This also significantly increased the global demand for
menopausal urine, which could never be covered by the existing supplies. However, the
development of recombinant DNA technology allowed for the production of pure,
synthetically manufactured gonadotropins in unlimited quantities with a reduced risk of
disease transmission via biological contamination (Lunenfeld, 2013:16). This genetically
engineered gonadotropin, known as Gonal-F, was developed at the Weizmann Institute in
Israel and the patent was acquired by Serono (http://www.bertarelli.com). This allowed the
company to consolidate its position as world-leader in the infertility market with an estimated
market share of 60%, making it the third largest biotechnology company in the world (Spar,
2006: 40). Even though Serono has a diverse drug portfolio in the field of reproductive health,
multiple sclerosis and oncology, Pergonal and Gonal-F remain their flagship products,
accounting for 32% of the company's sales in 2004 (Spar, 2006) xv.
After the Pergonal Project, Serono continued its cooperation with Israel through research
collaborations and drug development projects. As such, it contributed significantly in laying
the foundations of Israel’s biotech industry. In 1981 Serono created an Israeli daughter
company InterPharm as a way to intensify its relations with the Israeli Academia, notably
with the Weizmann Institute. This close cooperation between Serono and InterPharm led to
the development of several blockbuster drugs such as Gonal-F and Rebif, the latter being

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developed by the famous Israeli microbiologist Michel Revel who was the founder and Chief
Scientist of InterPharm. For more than a decade Interpharm was, together with BTG, the
showpiece of Israel’s biotech sector (Prainsack and Firestine, 2006). The expectations were
high that these two companies would catalyze the growth and development of biotechnology
in Israel, but in 2004 - against all odds and despite the privileged relation between Israel and
Serono - InterPharm was transformed into Inter-Lab, a smaller research and development
center specializing in cell therapy. The rest of the company was transferred to Geneva where
Serono received a tax-free offer the Israeli government was unable to compete with.
Broadly speaking, however, Israel - through the Office of Chief Scientist xvi of the Ministry of
Economy - has provided a broad spectrum of risk-sharing programs to stimulate technological
innovation in Israel. These provisions range from generous tax benefits and venture capital
government backingxvii to research grants and the development of technological incubators for
the biomed and high tech sector, with a special focus on those dozens of start-ups that
mushroomed during the nineties (OCS, 2014; Oliver, 2004). One of these programs was
Magnet, which brought together academics with already existing companies to work on
experimental research that could lead to eventual commercialization (Prainsack and Firestine,
2006; IATI, 2012; Messer-Yaron, 2011; Walker, 2012). Here as well, Serono – that in 2007
merged together with the German pharma giant Merck – played a crucial role. In 2011 Merck-
Serono launched Israel’s Bioincubator Fund, an initiative which offers both seed financing
and access to Inter-Lab’s laboratory facilities to a number of Israeli biotech start-ups that are
developing innovative technologies aligned with Merck-Serono’s strategic focus
(www.merckserono.com). One of the start-ups that Serono selected for its incubator program
was Kadimastem, a regenerative medicine company that focuses on the industrial
development and commercialization of stem cell-based therapeutics to screen drugs and to

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create medical solutions for diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases. In November 2013
Merck-Serono and Kadimastem signed a joint development agreement on the screening and
discovery of stem cell-based drugs that “could lead to the next generation therapeutics for
Multiple Sclerosis” (Kadimastem, 2013).
3. Reproductive-embryonic economies in post-Fordist Israel: the case of
Kadimastem
The stem cell industry constitutes a promising sector within Israel’s booming bio-
economy. Since the late nineties Israeli scientists such as Benjamin Reubinoff, Joseph
Itzkovitz-Eldor, Karl Skorecki, Michal Amit and Nissim Benvenisty have done foundational
work in the field of stem cell research. Of the first twelve publications on human embryonic
stem cells, ten included Israeli authors (Vogel, 2002). Science Magazine described Israel as
one of the leading countries in stem cell research (UKSCI, 2006). Israel’s pre-eminence in
human embryonic stem cell research has partially been explained by Judaism’s tolerant stance
on techno-scientific interventions in ‘God’s creation’ (Barilan & Siegel, 2004; Prainsack,
2006; Simonstein, 2008; Birenbaum-Carmeli, 2010;). Unlike Christianity, Judaism does not
oppose human embryonic stem cell research seen that Talmudic tradition dictates that life
begins significantly after conception. Moreover, the Israeli government has assisted in the
development of a national stem cell sector by establishing state-of-the-art laboratories and by
directing huge research funds to this field, especially oriented towards academic-industrial
cooperation. One of these programs was Bereshit, a $20 million Consortium for Cell Therapy
that brought together stem cell researchers from the academic and industrial scene for the
development of clinical grade human embryonic stem cell lines that could serve as a base for

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the development and commercialization of stem cell therapies. This helped the launch of
several startups - mostly university spin off companies - such as Pluristem, Cell Cure, Gamida
Cell, BrainStorm and Kamidastem, which are considered to be “pioneers in the stem cell
frontier” (Vogel, 2002), especially in the area of cell therapy and regenerative medicine. As
Charles Irving, CEO of Cell Cure, stated (West-Jerusalem, 20/02/2012): “Without Bereshit
there would be no clinical grade, very high quality human embryonic stem cell lines to form
us a basis of a stem cell industry in Israel”.
Kadimastem was founded by Michel Revel, an internationally acclaimed molecular geneticist
from the Weizmann Institute of Science who made his career as Chief Scientist at InterPharm.
For many years Revel was also Chairman of the National Biotechnology Committee and the
Chairman of the National Bioethics Committee. He was among the first Israeli academics that
started commercializing his biological research. He perceived the close interaction between
Israeli universities and the industrial world to be a key characteristic of the “Israeli model”.
The Israel Tech Transfer Organization (ITTN), which is the umbrella organization for Israel’s
twelve technology transfer units owned by universities, research institutes and medical
organizations, features nearly 1700 patented projects including 800 projects in biotech and life
sciences, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and diagnostics. This intimate relation between
Israeli Academy, the state and industry is not new. Israeli research institutions were among
the first in the world to commercialize their academic discoveries through the successful
creation of technology transfer companies prompting Messer-Yaron (2011:17) to term Israel
“– by all measures - a best practice example” in matters of technology transfer. In 1959 - 21
years before the legalization of the Bayh-Doyle Act in the United States - the Weizmann
Institute of Science had already established its technology transfer unit Yeda. In 2006, Yeda –
Hebrew for knowledge - was ranked first in income royalties among world academic

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institutes. Together with Yissum, the technology transfer company of the Hebrew University,
Yeda is rated among the top ten technology transfer companies worldwide in terms of
revenues (AUTM, 2010. Messer-Yaron, 2011)xviii. Kadimastem is a product of this
entanglement between academia, industry and the state in Israel. When Michel Revel retired
from the Weizmann Institute and founded Kadimastem in 2004, Yeda provided the company
with the exclusive licenses on all the intellectual property he gathered over the years.
Moreover, Yeda is part of the Board of Directors of Kadimastem.“And if we have success, of
course the universities will have income as well” (interview Michel Revel, Nes Ziona,
16/07/2013). In contrast to Bruno Lunenfeld’s position towards intellectual property
monopolies in medicine, Michel Revel’s (interview Nes Ziona, 16/07/2012) stance is more
lenient:
“There is nothing dishonorable in writing patents. One should teach these young
students, because if you don’t write your patents before you publish your paper, you
might cause your university to lose a lot of opportunities to make money. Money for
universities is always good for new research.”
Christian Zeller (2008:101) calculated that between 1990 and 2000 the number of patents
granted in biotechnology rose 15 percent a year at the US Patent and Trademark Office and
10.5 percent at the European Patent Office, compared to a five percent a year increase in
overall patents. He attributed this astronomic expansion of intellectual property monopolies
not so much to technological breakthroughs but rather to neoliberalism’s far-reaching
economic and institutional changesxix connected to the rise of a finance-dominated
biotechnology innovation system and the corresponding regime of intellectual property
monopolies.

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As mentioned earlier, the development of experimental health therapies in Israel would not
have been possible without the continuous availability of women’s biological tissues. Just like
post-menopausal women’s urine was required for the development of Pergonal, so are many
kinds of stem cell therapies derived from female reproductive tissues such as egg cells,
embryos, placentas, umbilical cord blood and cadaveric fetuses. Brown and Webster (2004)
have noted that these reproductive materials are increasingly harvested by contemporary
biomedicine as a generative site for scientific, medical and commercial purposes. In the
emergence of a flourishing stem cell sector in Israel these female tissues have been
transformed into desirable commodities which has created a close entanglement between the
assisted reproductive sector and human embryonic stem cell research. Sarah Franklin (2006)
has termed this close entanglement the “IVF-stem cell interface” while Catherine Waldby and
Melinda Cooper (2009) refer to it as the “maternal-embryonic nexus”. In Israel this nexus is
very outspoken. Four of the five first stem cell lines that were developed by James Thomson
in 1998 were created with the help of spare IVF embryos from the fertility clinic in Rambam
Medical Center in Haifa, where Joseph Itskovitz-Eldor not only leads the Obstetrics and
Gynaecology Department, but also the Stem Cell Research Centre. His research assistant,
Michal Amit (interview Haifa, 22/02/2012) who carried the frozen embryos on the plane to
Thomson's lab to assist in the project, tellingly stated:
Most of the embryos for the Wisconsin research came from our lab. This is what
happens if you do a lot of IVF, you have a lot of surplus embryos that nobody wants.”
IVF is indeed omnipresent in Israeli society. Israel has more fertility clinics per capita than
any other country in the world and Israelis are by far the biggest consumers of IVF in the
world (ICMART, 2004). The Israeli government subsidizes every citizen of the country -
irrespective of religion or marital status - for an unlimited number of IVF cycles until the live

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births of two children within the current relationship (Birenbaum-Carmeli, 2007; Shalev and
Felmayer, 2012).
That ART and stem cell research in Israel are closely intertwined became clear again with the
voting of the controversial law on Egg Cell Donations in 2010 (Shalev, 2010; Hashash, 2010,
Nahman, 2013; Vertommen 2015a) xx. This law allows single, healthy Israeli women aged
between 21 and 35 who are not undergoing fertility treatment themselves to donate egg cells
for reproductive or research purposes and receive a financial compensation of NIS20.000 or
approximately €5000. Israeli women between 18 and 54 who suffer from fertility problems
can request an egg cell donation, which will be partially covered by the National Health
Insurance (Shalev, 2010). The law came about after an intensive ten year deliberation process
that took place in the Knesset and in multiple governmental committees. The need for a Law
on Egg Cell Donations was framed within a discourse of helping infertile women to reproduce
in a way that ethically and culturally corresponded to existential Jewish questions
(Vertommen, 2015a). While the primary objective of the law was indeed to regulate egg
donations for reproductive purposes, it was vastly overlooked - as Yali Hashash (2010) has
convincingly argued - how prominent representatives of Israel’s biomedical establishment
succeeded in including donations for research purposes. Analyzing the protocols of the
governmental committee on egg donations, Hashash concluded that substantial pressure was
exerted on politicians to pass the bill in order to establish a legal framework for future
scientific development (Hashash, 2010: 288).
At the time when the Egg Donation Bill was first introduced in the early 2000s two Israeli
stem cell research teams - one at Rambam Medical Centre in Haifa and the other in Hadassah
Hospital in Jerusalem - were experimenting with somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) or
therapeutic cloning xxi, a specific type of stem cell research which required a large amount of

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egg cells. Joseph Itzkovitz-Eldor and Benjamin Reubinoff, the directors of the aforementioned
research centres, are not only internationals leaders in the stem cell field, but also successful
academic entrepreneurs who recently joined the scientific advisory board of Kadimastem.
Ruebinoff also started his own stem cell company called Cell Cure, a Hebrew University spin
off company that develops cell therapy products based on human embryonic stem cells. At
several moments these two physicians/researchers appeared before the governmental
committee to lobby for an Egg Donation Bill that would include research donations. In recent
years SCNT has been described as an inefficient technique which requires an excessive
amount of oocytes (Dennis, 2006). However, at the time when the Egg Donation Law was
first discussed in the early 2000s, SCNT still had the potential of developing into a promising
technique. Michel Revel, who also appeared for the governmental committee on egg
donations, explained afterwards:
The scientific use of the eggs at that time for SCNT looked very important and we
were convinced that it should be included. If not, you make it almost impossible for
Israeli scientists to work with those eggs. Today it’s not so important anymore, but
maybe tomorrow a discovery will happen that makes the use of unfertilized eggs
important again. Without any doubt, there will be some breakthroughs in research that
will create a bigger demand for unfertilized eggs again for medical research.”
(Interview Nes Ziona, 16/07/2012).
At present, none of Israel’s stem cell companies are directly depending on the procurement of
unfertilized eggs for the development of experimental stem cell therapies; Pluristem is using
placental cells, Gamida Cell umbilical cord blood cells while Cell Cure relies on existing stem
cell lines developed by Reubinoff under the Bereshit Program. Kadimastem uses the same
existing stem cell lines, as well as genetic mutation-carrying embryos from the pre-

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implantation genetic diagnosis xxii (PGD) unit from the Shaare Zedek Hospital in West-
Jerusalem. Spare embryos, fetal tissues and cord blood are often discursively constructed as
wasted forms of vitality if not donated to stem cell research (Waldby and Cooper, 2014). This
is particularly true for PGD/PGS embryos that are not considered suitable for reproductive
purposes and are usually discarded if not used for experimental research xxiii. Similar to the
urine donors in the Pergonal Project, the Israeli donors of spare or PGD embryos were not
remunerated for their donation. Within the existing legal frameworks women are often
confined to donate their reproductive tissues as gifts - for altruistic reasons such as the
progress of science and humanity - without receiving any financial compensation. This is
justified as a way to avoid the exploitation of underprivileged tissue donors who could
otherwise be induced to sell their bodily materials out of financial considerations. For
instance, in the aforementioned PGD research project at the Shaare Zedek Hospital the
informed consent form explicitly stated that:
Participation in the study is voluntary and you will not receive any financial benefits
or property rights for your consent to participate in it. It is possible that the stem cell
lines derived from your donated embryos, the cell derivatives or the results of the
research carried on the stem cell lines will have commercial potential. It is possible
that such potential will lead to commercial associations. Note that in such a case you
will not be eligible for financial or other benefits xxiv.
In their analysis of post-Fordist stem cell economies, feminist scholars such as Michal
Nahman (2008), Catherine Waldby (2002, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2014), Melinda Cooper (2006,
2008, 2010, 2014) and Donna Dickenson (2002, 2007) have demonstrated how bio-
economical regimes of labour and intellectual property are configured through a mind-body
split that only recognizes the innovative labor of the scientist who transforms biological

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matter –often considered as “res nullius” or nobody’s property - into patentable products
while blatantly disregarding the embodied labour (of often female) donors (Dickenson, 2007).
As such, Waldby and Mitchell (2006: 76) stated that tissue donors are often treated as “open
sources of biological material which can be readily disentangled in ways that favor the rights
and profits of biotechnology companies”, a trend that can also be discerned in Israel’s bio-
economy. Michel Revel (Nes Ziona, 16/07/2012) recalled the case of Interferon-beta, which
he developed for the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis and supplies Merck Serono with
hundreds of million dollars annually through the sales of Rebif .
“I myself made my career and my money by discovering Interferon for which we
needed blood donors. I remember during our research there was a case of blood
donors who claimed that they were inventors. They are not inventors, they are just
blood donors. The scientists made the invention. So I do not think that it would be wise
to extend the intellectual property rights to people who are just donating an organ or
tissue.”
As will be discussed further in the concluding part of this paper, the development of Israel’s
reproductive-embryonic sector was highly dependent on the unrecognized reproductive labor
of women as suppliers of raw reproductive tissues, such as placenta, egg cells and embryos.
4. Israel’s reproductive-industrial complex: fertile grounds of Zionist demographic
warfare
We need an army of scientists xxv
Shimon Peres, former president of Israel

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Similar to the emergence of a prosperous military-industrial complex in Israel,
Zionism’s century old double logic of (bio-)capital accumulation and demographic
elimination has created the fertile conditions for the development of a thriving reproductive-
embryonic biotech sector in which the interests of a pronatalist Jewish state and a biomedical
establishment have conjoined. My genealogy of Israel’s reproductive-industrial complex
centered around two techno-scientific apparatuses, Serono’s Pergonal and Kadimastem’s
stem cell therapies, each situated in a specific time-space frame of Zionist history. Following
Goven and Pavone’s (2014) conceptualisation of the bio-economy as an exclusionary political
project rather than a techno-scientific or economic given, I have argued that it is not possible
neither desirable to comprehend the emergence of Israel’s reproductive-embryonic sector
without analyzing its underlying political-economic power configurations (Jasanoff, 2004;
Rajan, 2007). By focusing on a broad variety of issues that characterize such a political
economy approach in settler-colonial Palestine/Israel - such as Zionist demographic
arithmetic, intellectual property monopolies, academic-industrial cooperation and gendered
labour regimes - certain continuities and discontinuities between the Keynesian-Fordist and
neoliberal “fix” of Israel’s reproductive-embryonic economy were discerned (Harvey, 2005).
First of all, both Pergonal and regenerative stem cell therapies have been co-produced – either
directly or indirectly - by Israel’s historically pronatalist policies that were oriented towards
the fruitful and healthy reproduction of the Jewish settler body. In its ongoing quest for the
Judaization of Palestine/Israel, Zionist ideology has materialized through a wide gamut of
pronatalist experiments that have catalyzed innovations at the frontier of global health and
research markets. From Lunenfeld’s discovery of Pergonal in 1961 to Reubinoff and
Itskovits-Eldor’s contribution in manufactuing the first human embryonic stem cell lines,
Israel is celebrated for bringing forth medical pioneers, particularly in the fields of assisted

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reproduction, reproductive genetics and stem cell research. In the case of Pergonal the linkage
with Jewish pronatalism was direct. Bruno Lunenfeld’s switch from menopausal to fertility
research in the mid-fifties was strongly inspired by a rabbi who had encouraged him to “bring
back the six million Jews that we lost during the Shoah.” During our interview (Tel Aviv,
27/08/13) Lunenfeld proudly stated that by now he got 12 million children back, five million
from IVF and seven million with ovulation induction. Moreover, the main reason why Prime
Minister David Ben Gurion was interested in supporting the Pergonal Project was
demography; in order to promote an internal aliyah in Israel. This also explains why for a
long period Pergonal was freely distributed through the Centre for Demographic Problems
and subsidized by the Prime Minister’s Office. Similarly, I have analyzed Israel’s eminence in
stem cell research as an indirect by-product of the country’s pronatalist stance on assisted
reproductive technologies. It has been widely acknowledged how Israel’s decennia long
devotion to fertility research which resulted in abundantly present “spare” reproductive tissues
has enabled the development of its stem cell sector (Shalev, 2010; Hashash, 2010; Nahman,
2013). As one famous stem cell researcher (interview West-Jerusalem, 17/02/2012) from the
Hebrew University aptly summarized it: “Apart from the fact that Jewish religion poses no
objections to stem cell research, I see two main reasons why several Israeli researchers
pioneered in stem cell research. Firstly, their personal good ties with people like Thomson
and Trounson. The other reason, which was not a coincidence, was the good practice of IVF
in Israel”. One powerful example of Israel’s maternal-embryonic nexus can be detected in
Israel’s recently voted Law on Egg Donations, which included research as a legitimate ground
for donation after the successful lobby work of entrepreneurial Israeli researchers who were
working on therapeutic cloningxxvi. Today, Israel’s stem cell laboratories at universities and
biotech companies are working closely together with PGD labs of hospitals for the purpose of
research on genetic diseases.

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Secondly, from old Italian nuns to young Israeli egg donors, it is clear that women are crucial
protagonists in Israel’s settler colonial bio-economy, both as reproducers of the nation and as
(unrecognized) producers of bio-value xxvii. In her research on the creation of plentiful
environments in the Land of Milk and Honey, Tamar Novick (2014: 37) identified the figure
of the “New Jewess” who personified “bodyscapes of plenty” in Zionist discourse. This
process has intensified with the introduction of and the governmental support for a broad
mosaic of new reproductive technologies, such as IVF, egg donation and surrogacy.
Motherhood is constructed as the chief ideological identity of Israeli women (Yuval-Davis,
1998; Remennick, 2008) while childlessness is pathologized as “a deviation from the natural
order” (Donath, 2014:6) and – as I have argued - as an existential threat to the Zionist
demographic project, particularly in contrast to the perceived hyper-fertility of Palestinian
women. Given that processes of reproduction are located at the heart of capitalized
biosciences, as Franklin and Lock (2003) have posited, women have been placed in a central -
yet not so privileged - position. Ranging from the post-menopausal urine that was used for the
production of Pergonal to the spare IVF/PGD embryos needed for the configuration of stem
cell lines, Israeli women’s biological tissues have been harvested as “res nullius” for the
development of experimental and (potentially) lucrative medical therapies, a process which
Marx would term primitive accumulation. Women and their bodies were not only mobilized
as the providers of raw biological resources, but also as experimental trial subjects for
promissory technologies such as Pergonal, DES and stem cell therapies.
A third point of focus, was the configuration of the regimes of accumulation through
intellectual property monopolies. Knowledge and technology have become central axes of
what Benner & Löfgren (2007) have termed neoliberalism’s financialised rentier-regime seen
that it heavily relies on the massive expansion of intellectual property monopolies (Zeller,

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2008). While Zeller (2008: 92) explicitly nuances the novelty of the valorization of
knowledge in capitalist history, he does insist that “distinctive for the current finance-
dominated accumulation regime is the highly increased importance of monopolized
knowledge and information for the extraction of rent.” While in the early sixties, Bruno
Lunenfeld refused to patent his discovery in order to keep medical knowledge accessible for
the scientific community, this was not possible anymore for Michel Revel’s generation for
whom patenting is seen as a crucial flow of income for university. This entrepreneurialization
of Israeli Academia has placed Israel among the world’s top patent holders in the field of
medical devices and bio-pharmaceuticals. Through their development into financial and
knowledge asset values and - to a lesser extent - into commercial bio-commodities, these
enclosed knowledges have constituted the solid base of Israel’s reproductive-embryonic
industry (Tyfield & Birch, 2013) xxviii.
Fourthly and closely connected to the previous point, the contribution of public research
centres has been so tremendous that it would be more sensible to opt for the term
reproductive-academic-industrial complex. Amalya Oliver (2004: 584) argued that under
impulse of neoliberal economic policies, the Israeli government set out three initiatives
nineties in order to facilitate the commercialization of academic research, i.e. the creation of
incubator units for fledgling companies, the supply of high-tech resources for academic and
start-up companies, and the creation of links between academia and industry. Although these
interventions have certainly invigorated the commercial importance of academic powerhouses
in Israel’s bio-economy, I have emphasized that Israeli universities have always been strongly
oriented towards the market (Messer-Yaron, 2011). The first technology transfer companies
were created long before the introduction of the Bayh-Doyle Act in 1980 in the United States,
which officially heralded the new era of the entrepreneurial university. Neither Pergonal nor

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current stem cell therapies could have been developed if it was not without the strong
cooperation between companies such as Serono and Kadimastem on the one hand and public
research institutions, such as the Weizmann Institute and Tel Hashomer Hospital with its
highly skilled academic staff on the other hand. Serono, which played such a constitutive role
in Israel’s biotech history, decided to invest in Israel after their success story with Lunenfeld.
Today, most of Israel’s stem cell companies are arising from university spin offs. An
important difference with earlier modes of governance lies in Israeli university’s current role
as indispensable generators of intellectual property monopolies.
Although Israel’s reproductive-embryonic sector indeed took a giant leap forward in the late
seventies with the introduction of neoliberal economic policies, I have argued that Zionism’s
century old settler colonial foundations have enabled the emergence of this thriving industry.
From its early inceptions the Zionist project necessitated the development of advanced
medical knowledge, science and technology to make the so called barren Palestinian desert
bloom and to regenerate the weak diaspora Jew into a healthy and fertile New Jew. Instead of
fixating on the innovative novelty or the market-drive behind Israel’s bio-economy, I have
discerned important continuities between Zionism’s Keynesian and neoliberal “fix” in the
creation of a reproductive-industrial complex in which the state, universities and
pharmaceutical companies have been pivotal players. This conceptualization of Israel’s bio-
economy transcends dichotomies between the state and the market, as already suggested by
Benner and Löfgren (2007) and Goven and Pavone (2014).
While Israel has been famous – notably during the first three decades of its existence- for
being strongly inspired by Labour Zionist principles such as mutualism, welfarism and
kibbutzism, this has been debunked by critical scholars as mostly pseudo-socialist mobilizing
myths. Ella Shohat (1988:21) called “the Zionist manipulation of socialist slogans and

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syndicalist language a smokescreen for the structural ethnical and class contradiction within
the Zionist experiment”. Ben Gurion, Labour Zionism’s symbol par excellence, could only
pursue his generous reproductive health policies, including the free distribution of Pergonal,
thanks to a close cooperation with pharmaceutical companies such as Serono and Ikapharm.
Conversely, Israel’s neoliberal turn of the late seventies did not imply a complete retreat of
the state. On the contrary, Israel’s current bio-economy still depends on multifaceted state
interventions, not so much on the demand-side as was the case during its Fordist-Keynesian
phase through, for instance, the free distribution of Pergonal to infertile Israeli women, but
rather on the supply-side, in attempt to make Israeli bio-tech start-ups, pharmaceutical
companies and the State as a whole more competitive and innovative (Benner and Löfgren,
2007)xxix. Particularly during the “roll-out neoliberal” nineties, the Israeli government
continued to nurture its biomed sector via supply-side measures, such as a permissive
regulatory framework on assisted reproduction, therapeutic cloning and stem cell research, tax
benefits, government backed venture capital funds, generous research grants and programs
such as Magnet and Bereshit, and the provision of technological incubators.
Similar to Rajan’s (2006) conclusion that ‘new’ genres of Indian bio-capital depended on
older exclusionary histories of colonialism, this paper argued that processes of settler
colonialism and (bio-)capitalism are intricately connected in Palestine/Israel, and that
Zionism’s double logic of capital accumulation and demographic elimination has furthered
the emergence of a thriving reproductive-industrial complex.
Acknowledgements
I would like to thank Hedva Eyal, Sahera Dirbas, Bilal Dirbas, Tamar Novick and Lana
Khaskia for helping with the translation of archival and policy documents, and Michal

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Nahman, Leila Stockmarr, Adam Hanieh, Koen Bogaert, Annemie Vermaelen, Sami Zemni
and the anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback and comments.
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According to David Rosenberg’s analysis (Haaretz, 29/01/15) Israeli start-ups raised $3.4 billion in
investments in 2014, the most ever. Venture capital funds, which provide most of the investments for start-ups,
drew in $910 million. Exits – money received by companies acquired or conducting initial public offerings –
reached $6.9 billion in 2014, making it one of the best years ever. http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/david-s-
harp/.premium-1.639703 last entry 01/03/15)
ii In 2008 the OECD average expenditure on R&D was 1.9% (OECD, 2008). In 2008, Israel was the highest of
all OECD countries, with an expenditure on civilian R&D of 4.7% of its GDP, mostly directed towards the
industrial sector.
24/02/2015)
iv Israel performs the highest number of IVF treatment cycles per capita in the world. In 2004 3844 IVF cycles
were conducted per million, while in Spain “only” 2051 and in the UK 661
In 2010 34.538 treatment cycles were performed in Israel, resulting in 29.961 transfer cycles and 5.612 live
births which equated 4.1% of the total live births (Ministry of Health, Department of Health Information,
Medical Facilities and Equipment Licensing Division, 2013). In that same year in the UK 57.652 treatment
cycles of IVF or ICSI were performed, resulting in less than 2% of the total live births
01/03/15).
In Spain 58.735 treatment cycles were performed in 2010, resulting in 17.014 live births which stands for 2.2%
of the total live births.
hed.pdf last entry 01/03/15)
Although pronatalist, Israel’s reproductive policies should be viewed as highly stratified. The work of
Benjamin & Amir (1992), Portuguese (1998), Kanaaneh (2002), Weiss (2002), Yali Hashash (2004), Ducker
(2006), Madmoni-Gerber (2009) and Vertommen (2015) has indicated that it were mostly European Jews or
Ashkenazim and not and Palestinians and Arab Jews or Mizrahim that were encouraged to be fruitful and
multiply.
vi Harvey (2005) has defined neoliberalism as a new capitalist mode of accumulation by dispossession that took
shape in the late seventies as a way to resolve the Fordist-Keynesian crisis. According to Peck and Tickell
(2002:37) neoliberal projects consist of two phases. The roll-back phase refers to "the active destruction of
Keynesian-welfarist and social-collectivist institutions through privatisation, deregulation, cutbacks in public
services while the roll-out phase refers to "the consolidation of neoliberalized state forms, modes of governance
and new trade and financial regulations by international governance institutions in an attempt to create a
competitive workfare state.
vii Although I strongly sympathize with the critique of Tyfield and Birch (2013:299) on the fetishization of
everything ‘bio’ and the flawed interpretation of Marxist concepts such as surplus, bio-value, capital in some of
the STS scholarship on the bio-economy, I do opt for the term bio-value as introduced by Waldby (2001) since
her work puts strong gender emphasis on the role of women as reproductive labourers in the bio-economy.
viii Bernard Zondek mapped three human varieties of gonadotropins, one produced in the placenta during
pregnancy and two extractable from the pituitary (Birenbaum-Carmeli, 2011).
ix To extract gonadotropins the menopausal urine has to pass through a kaolin cake which absorbs the
gonadotropins after which the crude gonadotropins can be extracted from the kaolin batch (Lunenfeld, 2013).
Israel State Archive, File 2, 40/15.
xi Some members of the Centre for Demographic Problems opposed the free distribution of Pergonal to all
infertile women. A few doctors raised concerns about spending a big part of the Demographic Centre’s limited
resources to an experimental drug such as Pergonal whose efficiency had not been tested properly.(Israel State
Archive, File 2, GAL 2091/6, Centre for Demographic Problems, Letter from Professor Halpert 03/11/1969)
xii Israel State Archive, File 2: 40/15.
xiii Personal archive Bruno Lunenfeld, Consulted on 28/8/13 in Tel Aviv. Translated with the kind help of Tamar
Novick and Bilal Dirbas.
xiv This was not the first time in Israel’s history that experimental fertility research caused unforeseen side-
effects, as was the case with the synthetic hormone diethylstilbestrol known as DES. This hormone was
distributed to thousands of Israeli women between 1949 and 1975 in the erroneous belief that it would minimize
the risk of pregnancy complications. However, investigative journalist Avi Valentine discovered that the drug
manufacturers Teva and Assia, the Ministry of Health and the Health Fund were negligent in marketing a drug

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2016 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1745-8552 BioSocieties 1–25
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44
that was supposed to sustain pregnancies, contrary to the warnings in professional literature that it actually
caused infertility and increased risk of cancer (Interview Avi Valentin, Herzliyya, 15/07/2013).
xv Deborah Spar (2006: 40) calculated that in 1991 Serono sold $260 million worth of fertility drugs and between
1992 and 2003 it doubled its sales. In 2003 the company’s sales rose by 31% to $519 million, with a profit rate
of 75%, an astounding $390 million.
xvi The Office of Chief Scientist in the Ministry of Economy is empowered by the Law for the Encouragement of
Industrial Research and Development of 1984 to oversee all government-sponsored support of R&D within
Israeli industry (www.economy.gov.il/madan last entry 07/02/2014)
xvii Israeli biotech was given a boost by the establishment of a $222 million venture capital Life Sciences Fund
which is being managed by OrbiMed Advisors, the largest healthcare investment fund in the world. The fund
was initiated by an Israeli government tender and investment of $50 million. 13 companies are enjoying financial
input from this venture capital fund (www.economy.gov.il/madan last entry 02/04/2014)
xviii Yeda was rated first in the world in technology transfer revenues in 2006. In 2003 it has been reported yearly
royalties income of $93,000,000. In 2003, more than three billion dollars worth of products licensed by Yeda
were sold world-wide, and at least twenty new companies were established in connection with,technologies
transferred from the Weizmann Institute (Messer-Yaron, 2011)
xix These institutional changes include the Bayh-Doyle Act, the ground-breaking case of Diamond versus
Chakrabarty, TRIPS.
xx Parts of these paragraphs on the Law on Egg Cell Donations, and its close connection to stem cell research
have already been described in earlier work (citation removed because of anonymity requirements)
xxiSomatic Cell Nuclear Transfer is a laboratory technique that attempts to create personalized stem cells for
regenerative therapies.
xxii Pre-implantation genetic testing is a technique used to identify genetic defects in embryos created through in
vitro fertilization (IVF) before pregnancy. Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) refers specifically to when
one or both genetic parents has a known genetic abnormality and testing is performed on an embryo to determine
if it also carries a genetic abnormality. (http://emedicine.medscape.com/ last entry 02/06/2014)
xxiii As explained by Pavone and Arias (2012: 252) in their research on the political economy of PGD/PGS in
Spain, embryos discarded from PGD carry a broad range of different ‘defects’, varying from either recessive
monogenic disorders to predispositions to multi-genetic, complex disorders. This has radically altered the
definition of ‘life threatening’, ‘early-onset’ and ‘serious’ diseases and has lucratively broadened the actual
scope of the technology.
xxiv Informed Consent Form for Genetic Research, Shaare Zedek Medical Center, dr. Gheona Altarescu and dr.
Rachel Eiges (via personal communication 18/07/2012)
xxv Quoted in Stockmarr Leila, Seeing Is Striking: Selling Israeli Warfare, Jadaliyya, 18/01/2014,
xxvi From a demographic-reproductive point of view the Law on Egg Cell Donations was also quite significant
since it required the donor and the recipient of the egg cell to have the same religion, which inhibited Palestinian
women from benefitting from the law since they hardly ever donate egg cells in the framework of the law
(Vertommen 2014a).
xxvii As one of the reviewers aptly remarked, there are also important differences between the two generations of
Israeli tissue providers, despite their strong similarities. Although Labour Zionism was far from being socialist in
its practical materialization in Israel/Palestine, it did serve a as powerful societal narrative until the late
seventies. In this sense, the elderly women in the sixties were more prone to donate their urine than Israeli
women today are willing to donate egg cells. In spite of doubling the compensation fees for egg donors from
10.000 to 20.000 shekels ($5,776) in 2013, Israel’s Egg Donation Law is not managing to attract many egg
donors, neither for reproductive nor for therapeutic purposes. Between 2012 and 2014 only 42 egg donors had
been registered by the Health Ministry http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.580728
xxviii Drawing on the work of Tyfield and Birch (2012:322) I agree that Israel’s reproductive-embryonic industry
is mainly an asset-based enterprise rather than commodity-based one. Their current value is mostly derived from
trade in intellectual property and financial investments, not yet from the production of bio-commodities, seen
that up to now many Israeli biotech companies have simply not produced any therapies for sale.
xxix Thanks to the anonymous reviewer for pointing out to this important nuance between demand -and supply-
side state interventions in the bio-economy.


=======================================================

Towards a political economy of egg cell donations: 'doing it the Israeli way'

(2016) Critical Kinship studies : Kinship (trans)formed. p.169-184
abstract

In July 2010 the Israeli Knesset approved a controversial law, allowing healthy, single, Israeli women aged between 21 and 35 to “donate” their egg cells and receive a financial compensation of NIS 19.000 or approximately $ 5400. Women between 18 and 54 who suffer from fertility problems can request an egg donation which will be paid for through the national health insurance. The Egg Donation Law has been analyzed and evaluated as yet another example of Israel’s pronatalist assisted reproductive health policy which includes almost unlimited state funding of in vitro fertilization (IVF), intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), donor insemination, prenatal genetic diagnosis (PGD) and surrogacy. Israel’s permissive stance on egg donations and assisted reproductive technologies in general has often been explained and legitimized from a culturalist perspective, focusing on the centrality of reproduction in Judaism, Jewish culture and tradition. I will argue that instead of strictly focusing on cultural an ethical narratives of ‘Jewishness’ to explain Israel’s pronatalist stance, one should also look at the political economy of reproduction in Israel/Palestine. This perspective should not only take into consideration the centrality of reproduction within the ongoing Zionist settler colonial project, but also Israel’s leading bio-economic position in the globalized health and research market. From a political economy perspective I contend that Israeli policies on egg cell donations were co-produced within a logic of capital accumulation to benefit its emerging stem cell economy and within a logic of elimination to safeguard the demographic balance in its settler colonial project.
 
 


DRAFT VERSION, PLEASE DON’T CIRCULATE OR QUOTE WITHOUT PERMISSION OF THE AUTHOR
Towards a political economy of egg cell donations: “Doing it the Israeli way”
Sigrid Vertommen, MENARG, Ghent University
 

1. Be fruitful and multiply: the centrality of reproduction in Israel

Reproduction and fertility play a very central role in Israeli society. Over the last two decades social

scientists have persuasively argued that Israel’s reproductive health policies have always been and

remain an expression of the state’s efforts to be a Jewish state (Portuguese 1998, Kahn 2000, Weiss

2002, Kanaaneh 2002, Birenbaum-Carmeli 2004 2008 2010, Prainsack 2006, Hashiloni-Dolev 2006,

Nahman 2006 2008a 2008b 2013, Hashash 2010, Remennick 2006 2010). Two crucial points are made

within this oeuvre, one focusing on quantity and the pronatalist character of Israel’s reproductive policy

and the other on its qualitative quest for the perfect baby.

The first contention is that Israel’s reproductive policies are ardently pronatalist. This becomes clear

when looking at Israel’s policies on (assisted) reproduction and family planning. Israel’s pronatalist policy

has been institutionalized through multiple funds and committees such as the 1949 Heroine Award for

mothers with at least ten children the 1962 Committee for Natality Problems, the 1968 Demographic

Centre with its Fund for Encouraging Birth and the 2002 Israel Council on Demography. These funds and

committees provided monetary incentives for producing large families, social benefits for (working)

mothers and high child allowances (Birenbaum-Carmeli 2007,25). As for Israel’s policy on assisted

reproduction, Israel has more fertility clinics per capita than any other country in the world and Israelis

are by far the biggest consumers of fertility treatments (Shalev & Felmayer 2012). Assisted reproductive

technologies such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF), intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), donor

insemination (DI), surrogacy, egg donation, egg freezing and prenatal genetic diagnosis (PGD) are not

only widely accepted and extremely popular in Israel, but most of them are almost completely state

sponsored. For instance, the Israeli government funds every citizen of the country -irrespective of

religion or marital status - for an unlimited number of IVF cycles until the live births of two children

within the current relationship (Shalev & Felmayer 2012). In contrast to this remarkably generous

support for enabling reproductive technologies, treatments that restrict family size remain largely

unsubsidized in Israel (Balabanova & Simonstein 2009). Family planning services are not only inadequate,

but they hardly receive state support (Portuguese 1998). Contraceptives are not widely promoted in

Israel and abortion is still illegal, except for therapeutic reasons.

The second contention within the body of work on Israel’s reproductive technologies is that Israel,

although pronatalist, is equally concerned with quality and the so called quest for the perfect baby

(Remennick 2006, Hashiloni-Dolev 2009). Research has indicated that Israeli women are among the

world’s biggest consumers of prenatal genetic tests, genetic profiling and counselling. Meira Weiss

(2002) observed that the popularity of prenatal genetic testing among Israeli women coincides with high

rates of therapeutic abortions in case of (minor) fetal problems. According to Weiss this is the result of

 

2

the societal urge to produce ‘Sabras’ 1, a new type of Jew that exhibits strong and masculine physical

attributes as opposed to the feminine, neurotic and weak image of the Diaspora Jew (Weiss 2002,

Massad 2005).

Concordantly, the Israeli regulation on ‘red’ biotechnology - i.e. biotechnology applied to medical

processes - is very loose. Controversial techniques and practices such as human embryonic stem cell

research, therapeutic cloning or sex selection are allowed in Israel. Barbara Prainsack (2006) observed a

remarkable absence of public controversies about the moral permissibility of technologies such as

cloning, genetic modification or human embryonic stem cell research. She called this “fearless, liberal but

not immoral embrace of biomedical technologies” as part of “doing it the Israeli way” (Prainsack and

Firestine 2006, 42).

This urge to “reproduce New Jews” (Kahn 2000) has often been explained and legitimized from a

culturalist point of view, focusing on the centrality of reproduction in Judaism, Jewish culture and

tradition. Some researchers, politicians and opinion makers refer to religious motives to explain Israel’s

pronatalist stance such as the first commandment (mitzvah) in the Torah prescribing Jews to ‘be fruitful

and multiply’, to the omnipresence of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs in Jewish tradition, to the

compatibility of the Jewish law (Halakha) with the principals of assisted reproduction and to the very

“liberal” attitude of the orthodox Jewish establishment toward artificial reproductive technologies.

Others refer to the violent history of the Jews in Europe and the virulent waves of persecution they faced

culminating in the Shoah, which equated individual procreation with collective survival. Without wanting

to downgrade the importance of reproduction and family life within Judaism and Jewish culture, I will

argue in this chapter that instead of strictly focusing on cultural or ethnic narratives of ‘Jewishness’ to

explain Israel’s pronatalist stance, one should also look at the political economy of reproduction in

Israel/Palestine. This perspective should not only take into consideration the centrality of reproduction

within the ongoing Zionist settler colonial project (logic of elimination), but also Israel’s leading bio-

economic position in the globalized health and research market (logic of capital accumulation). By

looking into one specific case study of assisted reproductive technologies, a recently voted law on egg

cell donations, I will argue that Israel’s permissive stance on egg cell donations (and assisted

reproduction in general) has not only been shaped by Jewish culture and tradition, but also by ongoing

histories of Zionist settler colonialism and neoliberal bio-capitalism (Nahman 2013). First, I will elaborate

further on the context and genesis of the Egg Donation Law which has been legitimized by the Israeli

establishment by referring to the will to make infertile women’s reproductive dreams come true in a way

that religiously and culturally corresponds with existential and ethical “Jewish” questions. In a second

part I will argue that a political economy analysis could bring further understanding to the law and

practice of egg cell donations in Israel, by elaborating on its settler colonial and neoliberal components.

Despite their local contingencies, I consider both settler colonialism and (neoliberal) capitalism to be

historical systems governed by a certain structural logic. In the case of settler colonialism Patrick Wolfe

(1999, 2006, 2007) refers a governing logic of elimination of the indigenous populations and their

entitlements to the native land. The underlying structure of (neoliberal) capitalism is one of capital

Sabra or Tzabar literally means cactus fruit in Hebrew, but it also refers to an Israeli born Jew. Cactus fruit is soft in

the inside and rough on the outside, an as such it is a symbol of collective renewal as well as a dissociation from the

Jewish Diaspora life of the past (Meira Weiss 2002)

 

3

accumulation by dispossession and the ongoing commodification of everything, including female

reproductive tissues such as egg cells (Dickenson, Cooper, Waldby, Harvey). I will contend that Israel’s

policies on egg cell donations have been co-produced by 1) Zionist demographic politics which aim to

consolidate a Jewish majority in a Jewish state and - by consequence – aim to eliminate the indigenous

Palestinian population by symbolically preventing it to be born and 2) the Israeli attempt to create a

competitive stem cell industry in a globalizing bio-economy. In a last part I will elucidate further on how

these multiple histories of accumulation and elimination have also affected the ways in which Israeli and

Jewish kinship is being (re)conceptualized.

This chapter is part of my ongoing research on the political economy of assisted reproduction in

Israel/Palestine which is based on fieldwork that I conducted throughout 2012 (January until March and

July until August). My fieldwork largely consisted of a close reading of policy documents, participatory

observations in fertility clinics that performed egg cell donations, and semi structured interviews with

different actors involved in the realization of the Law on Egg Cell Donations, such as fertility doctors,

patient organizations, feminist organizations, rabbis, stem cell researchers, representatives of the

Ministry of Health, bio-ethicists, etc.

2. Israel’s Law on Egg Cell Donations: between supply and demand

In July 2010 the Israeli Knesset approved a controversial law on Egg Cell Donations. According to the new

law single Israeli women aged between 21 and 35 who are healthy and not undergoing fertility

treatment themselves will be allowed to donate egg cells for reproductive or research purposes and

receive a financial compensation of NIS 10.000 or approximately € 2000. Israeli women between 18 and

54(!) who suffer from fertility problems can request an egg cell donation, which will be paid for through

the Israeli Health Insurance. Donors will be permitted to donate oocytes three times, given to no more

than three women with fertility problems, and this on an anonymous basis (Knesset, Law on Egg Cell

Donations 2010) 2. The law came about after an intensive ten year deliberation process that took place in

the Knesset and in multiple governmental committees, such as the Public-Professional Committee on the

matter of egg cell donation headed by rabbi Mordechai Halperin and the Committee on the Status of

Women headed by MK’s Yael Dayan and Ahmed Tibi (Nahman 2013). Within these governmental

committees several different actors such as fertility doctors, rabbis, bio-ethicists, nurses, feminists, stem

cell researchers, patient rights organizations were invited by the Ministry of Health to discuss the

physical, ethical and moral problems arising from the practice of egg cell donations.

The main motivation for initiating the law on egg cell donations was the so called national shortage of

egg cells, which was caused by an increasing demand for eggs by women in reproductive need and a low

supply of donor eggs cells from fertility patients who were too reluctant to donate their spare eggs

Despite the advances in medical technologies, egg donation is still an invasive and potentially harmful procedure

in which the body of the donor is hormonally overstimulated to produce multiple egg follicles that are then

surgically “harvested”. This whole process still carries the risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome which can

involve pain, abdominal inflammation, possible renal failure and infertility, venous thrombo-embolism and cardiac

instability (Steinbrook 2006). Moreover, little research has been conducted on the long-term health risks of ovarian

stimulation (Dickenson 2005, Beeson 2006; Waldby 2008, Werner-Felmayer 2009).

 

4

(Shalev 2010)3. The willingness of women to donate egg cells deteriorated even more after two dramatic

events, the 2000 Egg Affair and the 2010 Sabyc Clinic Affair. In 2000 the Israeli police opened an criminal

investigation against the renowned fertility doctor Zion Ben-Rafael who was accused of harvesting

enormous quantities of egg cells from women without their informed consent. The scandal resulted in a

crisis of trust, and the practice of egg donation in the country ceased almost completely. Meanwhile,

Israeli women in need of eggs started travelling to IVF clinics in countries with a loose legislation on

infertility procedures, such as Romania, the Ukraine, Cyprus and the Czech Republic where Israeli fertility

doctors have been setting up branches of their clinics (Nahman 2008, 2013 & Shalev 2010). In this

process of “reverse egg traffic” (Nahman 2013) physicians prepare their Israeli patients hormonally for

embryo transfer after which these women travel abroad to be implanted with cheap ova from the local

donor population (Nahman 2006). Public pressure for the approval of the Law on Egg Donation grew

even stronger when the Romanian police raided the Sabyc fertility clinic in Bucharest, which was set up

by Israeli fertility doctors on behalf of Israeli women in need of an egg donation (Shalev 2010). The

Romanian authorities arrested the responsible Israeli doctors who were accused of human egg

trafficking and endangering the lives of dozens of Romanian women for the purpose of harvesting and

selling their eggs. After these dramatic events the Israeli government was decisive to regulate the

practice of egg cell donations and to allow healthy women to donate ova in order to create a better

match between supply and demand of egg cells without pushing infertile Israeli women into the illegal

circuit of transnational ova trafficking 4.

The Egg Donation Law has been explained and legitimized by referring to the will to make infertile

women’s reproductive dreams come true in a way that religiously and culturally corresponds with

existential and ethical “Jewish” questions. In 2007, when the Egg Donation Bill passed yet another

reading, the Minister of Health mentioned in his opening statement for the Knesset:

“In the State of Israel the value of parenthood, the right to bring children into the world and realization of

the personal aspiration within the family unit are extremely central, both from the cultural and halakhic

point of view. […] The opening of many IVF units all over the country, the freezing of fertilized eggs for

many years, bringing children into the world by means of surrogacy, posthumous sperm insemination and

more – all these are the fruits of technological progress that found legal redress in legislation […]. The

current bill is one more step in this direction, since it addresses the issue of egg donation, a subject that

touches considerable suffering of many couples and women and has been a significant barrier to realizing

the right to parenthood.” (Knesset Plenary 2007, quoted in Shalev 2010: 6, emphasis added by S.V.)

What has mostly been overlooked in the appraisal and evaluation of the law on egg cell donations are

two crucial amendments. One clause in the new law allows egg cells to be donated for research

purposes, and another amendment stipulates that the donor and the recipient of the egg cell have to

share the same religion. In her recently published excellent book on egg extractions Michal Nahman

According to Shalev (2010) the demand for egg cells tripled in ten years time, from 2000 in 2000 to 6000 in 2010.

This was caused by the fact that Israeli women who were beyond their “natural” reproductive age and whose egg

cells were no longer viable for IVF treatments considered egg donations as the ultimate solution to have a baby .

However, because the law on egg cell donations has not succeeded in attracting enough local Israeli donors, the

practice of transnational egg cell donation continues to exist. Private and public IVF clinics in Israel continue to

supply infertile Israeli women with oocytes sold by women in Central and Eastern Europe.

 

5

(2013, 26) states that “there are various ways to tell the story of Israeli egg donation. It’s about how you

chose to map them. These choices are crucial”. Instead of focusing on the cultural and religious motives

to explain Israel’s “liberal” law on egg cell donation, I have chosen to analyze the law and practice of egg

cell donations from a political economy perspective. This implies viewing egg cell donations as nation-

building and state making practices, in which certain exclusive histories of race, class and gender re-

materialize in deciding who or what can belong to the Israeli “imagined community”. In the case of Israel

this refers to a Zionist state that has been settler colonial since its creation and has been orienting its

economy in an explicitly neoliberal way since the late seventies.

3. The Law on Egg Donations from a settler colonial perspective

• Settler colonial demographies and stratified reproduction in Israel/Palestine

Drawing on the work of Patrick Wolfe, Lorenzo Veracini (2006, 2010), Nahla Abdo and Nira Yuval-Davis

(1995), I will not frame the Zionist project in Israel/Palestine as a nationalist project, but rather as settler

colonial one where - similar to the United States, Australia or Canada - Europeans have settled in an

already populated alien territory and where their descendants have remained politically dominant over

the indigenous populations (Yuval-Davis & Stasiulis 1995)5. Notwithstanding their contingencies and

variations in historical genesis and development, settler colonies share a set of common features.

According to Patrick Wolfe (2006) they have two basic concerns, one referring to territory and the other

to demography and the management of populations. First and foremost, settler colonial projects are

concerned with territorial expansion and the maximal accumulation of indigenous land. Secondly and

consequently, settler colonies aim to remove the natives so that the land can be repopulated with the

settler population. As Wolfe (2007, 58) puts it: “A settler colony’s aim is the replacement of native

society, it’s governing logic is thus one of elimination or removal rather than incorporation of indigenous

peoples”. In the case of Zionism this was reflected in the project of “creative destruction 6” in Historical

Palestine that started at the end of the 19th century when Jewish pioneers, inspired by the Zionist

ideology and evading European anti-Semitism, immigrated to Palestine and started accumulating

indigenous land. This process of territorial expansion was accompanied by a structural dispossession of

Palestinian farmers. The Holy Land was to be depopulated from its Palestinian inhabitants and

repopulated with Jewish settlers. The raison d’être of the Zionist settler colonial project has been the

perpetual de-Palestinization and Judaization of Historical Palestine. Again drawing on Wolfe, I don’t view

It would be incorrect to say that Zionism is absent in the existing body of work on the policies of assisted

reproduction in Israel. When reviewing the literature, Zionism is often mentioned as one of the explanatory

paradigms, next to Judaism, Jewish culture, patriarchy and familism (Portuguese 1998, Kahn 2000, Weiss 2002,

Kanaaneh 2002, Birenbaum-Carmeli 2004, 2008, 2010, Prainsack 2006, Hashiloni-Dolev 2006) However, Zionism is

mostly framed as a Jewish nationalist movement/ideology that like all other forms of European nationalisms has

shown a great interest in demographics and population. Consequently, considerable attention has been dedicated

to the Judaizing effects within Israel’s reproductive policies (enlarging the settler population), and not so much to

its de-Palestinization effects (diminishing the indigenous population).

In his book Altneueland Theodor Herzl, the founding father of Zionism, wrote that ‘If I want to substitute a new

building for an old one, I must demolish before I can construct”. (quoted in Wolfe 2007, 314)

 

6

the Zionist settler invasion as an event that ended in 1948 with the creation of the State of Israel or that

started in 1967 with the military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East-Jerusalem. Rather, I will

analyze it as a structure that hasn’t ceased since it moved on from the era of frontier homicide and mass

expulsion. As Patrick Wolfe (2008, p.120) postulates: “Narrating the history of settler colonial invasion

involves charting the continuities, discontinuities, adjustments, and departures whereby a logic that

initially informed frontier killing transmutes into different modalities, discourses and institutional

formations as it undergirds the historical development and complexification of settler society”. A variety

of practices have converged on the purposed demographic removal of the indigenous Palestinians,

ranging from frontier killings and mass expulsions between 1947 and 1949 when 750.000 Palestinians

were ethnically cleansed to denying Palestinians refugees the Right to Return to their homeland.

However, as Morgenson (2011, 2012) argued, indigenous removal can also proceed through settler

regulation of sexual relations, marriage and reproduction. In her ground-breaking research on colonial

Indonesian society of the late 19th century Ann Laura Stoler (2002,14) already claimed: “Matters of

sexuality and reproduction are not only metaphors for colonial inequalities, but they are foundational to

the material terms in which colonial projects were carried out”. A clear example of this settler colonial

biopolitics is the 2003 Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law which prevents Palestinian citizens of Israel to

marry a resident from the West Bank or Gaza by denying them automatic citizenship. By not allowing

these family unifications Israel prevented “Palestinian return through the backdoor” (Zureik 2010). In

what follows I will elucidate on these “intimacies of empire” (Stoler 2002) by connecting Zionist

demographic concerns with settler colonial governance of (assisted) reproductive processes.

Israel has defined itself as being a Jewish state, a national homeland for all Jews from all over the world.

This conceptualization has obviously sharpened its concern for Jewish versus non-Jewish demography

(Kanaaneh 2002). From its early inceptions in the late 19th century the Zionist movement realized that in

order for Israel to ever become a Jewish state, at least the majority of the population should be Jewish.

In this sense, the presence of Palestinians, within and outside the borders of Israel, has always posed an

existential threat to the Jewish collective body. Rhoda Kanaaneh wrote that there has been a continued

national preoccupation over too many Palestinian/Arab bodies and too few Jewish bodies in the Israeli

“imagined community”. This has been proved at different moments in Zionist history. When the Israeli

state was created in 1947, the first Prime Minister Ben Gurion stated: “In my heart, there was joy mixed

with sadness; joy that the nations at last acknowledged that we are a nation with a state, and sadness

that we lost half of the country, Judea and Samaria [West Bank and Gaza, S.V.], and , in addition, that we

would have in our state 400,000 [Palestinian, S.V.] Arabs" (quoted in Morris 2001, 190). He referred to

relatively small number of Palestinians who didn’t leave their homeland in 1948 and who since then are

considered to be an internal demographic threat to the Zionist project 7. In the Koenig Memorandum, a

confidential government document written in 1976, a number of strategic goals were set forward aimed

at reducing the number of Arab citizens of Israel in the North of the country. Warning against an Arab

demographic time bomb, Koenig expressed the need “to examine the possibility of diluting existing Arab

population concentrations” (quoted in Yuval-Davis & Abdo 1995). In a speech given to the Knesset in

2007, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, still warned of “a demographic battle, drowned in blood and

Today, Palestinians constitute roughly 20% of the Israeli population (CBS 2012)

 

7

tears” (quoted in Goldman 2013). This fear of being outnumbered is enhanced even further by the fact

that Palestinians have higher birth rates than Jewish Israeli’s, a fact that is collectively perceived by

Israeli society as a demographic holocaust. When discussing the future of the Palestinans in the West

Bank and Gaza after they had been militarily occupied by Israel in 1967, Prime Minister Golda Meir

confessed: “In case of complete annexation we would have to wake up every morning wondering how

many Arab babies have been born during the night” (quoted in Hirst 2003, 85). Arnon Soffer, a

prominent Israeli geographer, stated on a conference in 1995 that “the most serious threat that Israel

faces is the wombs of Arab women in Israel” (quoted in Kanaaneh 2002, 74). The Israeli Central Bureau

of Statistics meticulously monitors these demographic trends by yearly measuring the natural increase of

its Jewish, Muslim and Christian populations in order to calculate the ratio of Jews to “Arabs”. As former

Prime Minister Yithzhak Rabin put it: “The red line for Arabs is 20% of the population, that must not be

gone over” (quoted in Kanaaneh 2002, 50).

In its crusade to create and consolidate the Jewish majority in the Holy Land, Israel has attempted to

enlarge its Jewish population in two significant ways. First and foremost, by installing a strong

immigration policy to attract Jews from the Diaspora, crystallized in the Law of Return which gives every

Jew in the world the right and privilege to “ascend” to Israel (aliyah) and to become an Israeli citizen, and

by simultaneously denying Palestinian refugees their Right to Return. Second, by installing pronatalist

reproductive health policies that would stimulate Jewish Israelis to “reproduce the nation”. Leading

gynecologist, fertility researcher and founder of Israeli Family Planning Associations Yitzhak Halbrecht

(quoted in Hashash 2010) summarized it well when postulating that “the future of the State of Israel

depends on its number of citizens and their quality –both aspects depend on the magnitude of

immigration from various countries of origin on the one hand and the natural increase of the local

population”. While Israeli migration policies are meant to promote an “external aliyah”, its pronatalist

reproductive health policies are to encourage an “internal aliyah”. When commenting on Israel’s

exceptionally generous IVF policy, former Chief of Staff and Minister of Health Mordechai Gur stated that

IVF is still cheaper than a newcomer” as means of increasing the size of the population (quoted in

Birenbaum-Carmeli 2004, 900).

However, as Jacqueline Portuguese (1998) and Rhoda Kanaaneh (2002) have convincingly argued, this

state-sponsored pronatalism should be viewed as a selective pronatalism since it is mostly the Jewish

part and not the Arab “residual” part of the nation that is being encouraged to be fruitful and multiply.

Analyzing Israel’s fertility policy, Portuguese (1998) concluded that the Israeli government has been as

concerned with lowering the Palestinian birthrate as it has with raising the Jewish one. She emphasizes

that this has never resulted in an explicit anti-natalist design for Palestinians. For instance, there is no

history of forced sterilizations of Palestinian women, nor were there any special provisions or allowances

for Palestinian women to undergo abortions. Moreover, Palestinian women living inside Israel are

citizens of the State by which they are entitled to the same health care provisions as Jewish Israelis.

There are nonetheless some indications in Israel’s history of reproductive policies of what Shellee Colen

(1986) has dubbed stratified reproduction, a policy by which certain groups in society are encouraged or

coerced to reproduce and parent and others are not. For instance, in 1949 David Ben Gurion issued the

Heroine Mother award, financial award to every heroine woman on the birth of her tenth child. The

 

8

Heroine Mother award was dropped after ten years when it turned out that it were mostly Arab women

who were benefitting from it. Ben Gurion commented that ‘any future prenatal incentive must be

administered by the Jewish Agency [parastatal Israeli organisation which is only accountable to Jewish

citizens, S.V.) and not the state [which is supposed to take care of all its citizens, including the Palestinian,

S.V.] since the aim is to increase the number of Jews and not the population of the state (quoted in

Kanaaneh 2002, p.35). In 1968 Israel established a Fund for Encouraging Birth, which was only available

for those who had relatives in the Israeli army, clearly excluding Palestinians in Israel since they usually

don’t serve in the army. In the next paragraphs I will analyze whether this selective pronatalism or

stratified reproduction can also be detected in Israel’s more advanced assisted reproductive

technologies, by a close reading of the recently voted law on Egg Cell Donations.

• From egg cells without a religion to interreligious zygotes

One of the amendments that has been included without much controversy in the law on Egg Donations,

states that the recipient and donor of the egg cell are required to have the same religion. This

amendment has been trivialized by many of the actors involved in the decision making process as being a

compromise between the secular and the religious political parties in Knesset, or as a way “not to

complicate things more”. Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman only agreed to support the law after

receiving the consent of the rabbinical authorities who insisted on this amendment since Judaism follows

matrilineal standards by which the religion of a newborn baby is determined by the mother's religion.

According to Halakhic standards the mother is defined as the one who carries the baby, favoring

gestational motherhood over genetic motherhood. As Ofra Balaban, the president of the Israeli fertility

association Chenaptly put it: “An egg cell is just a cell, and cells don’t have a religion” (interview Holon

26/02/2012). However, in the case of the egg cell donations there have been some disagreements over

who or what defines Jewish kinship. The Legal Advisor of the Ministry of Health explained that “one rabbi

says that the mother is the one giving birth to the baby, the other one says it’s the one giving the egg. So

to make things easier we decided that both of them have to be from the same religion” (interview Mira

Hibner Harel 20/02/2012 Jerusalem). Ofra Balaban affirmed this: “It was one of the compromises in order

to make the religious people calm, so the egg can stay within the same tribe” (interview 26/02/2012

Holon). Some people were quite amazed by the irony of this amendment, since most Israeli women in

need of an egg donation continue to make use of Israel’s transnational egg trade with countries such as

the Ukraine, Rumania and the Czech Republic. The oocyte vendors in these countries are seldom Jewish.

In these cases of transnational ova donation, the alleged kinship problem is solved by obliging the

gestational mothers to adopt the children born from cross-border ova donations in order for them to

gain Israeli citizenship (Nahman 2013). This again emphasizes how closely Jewish kinship and Israeli

citizenship are interlinked in deciding who can belong to the imagined community. In this respect, Michal

Nahman (2013) referred to a telling story in her research on Israeli transnational egg cell donations, in

which fertilized eggs from an Israeli fertility clinic in Eastern Europe were detained because the Israeli

doctors were suspected of egg trafficking. The Israeli couples demanded “their” embryos back, insisting

that the embryos had the “right to return” to Israel. The right of return is a highly loaded concept in

Israel since it refers to the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland, a right which is

ensured by the United Nations Resolution 194 but vehemently denied by Israel. Concordant with Israel’s

 

9

settler colonial demographic policy it appeared legitimate to bring back Jewish embryos “from the

Diaspora” under the Law of Return while simultaneously denying six million Palestinian refugees their

Right to Return.

The inclusion of this special amendment in the Egg Donation Law obviously makes it impossible for a

Muslim, Christian or Druze woman to donate an egg cell to a Jewish couple and vice versa, without the

approval of an Exceptional Committee. The Legal Advisor of the Ministry of Health, Mira Hibner Harel

clarified it as following: “If, for example, there would be a Jewish egg donor and a Muslim recipient then

this would cause problems because the baby would be both Muslim and Jewish.[…] We don’t want to

make more problems than we already have, and we have a lot” (interview 20/02/2012 Jerusalem).

Adding this amendment has been legitimized by referring to the need to make egg donations compatible

with Jewish law and Jewish religion. As a prominent philosopher and former member of the Bioethics

Committee said: “The reasoning was that we don’t know what will eventually emerge as the religious

attitude towards interreligious zygotes, so we decided to stay on the safe side” (interview Asa Kasher

26/07/2013 Tel Aviv). However, religious categorizations in Israel often func'tion as a masquerade to

conceal underlying racial classifications of Arabs/Palestinians versus Jews. A fear for cross religious

zygotes can thus be interpreted as a fear for cross racial zygotes. One fertility doctor from Hadera stated:

The consensus was that we didn’t want to mingle between populations and to put, let’s say, a Jewish

egg in an Arab woman” (interview Adrian Ellenbogen 21/08/2012 Hadera, emphasis added by S.V.).

Remarkably, none of my Jewish Israeli interlocutors perceived this amendment to be racist. A well

known Israeli bioethicist considered it to be “a strictly symbolic measure without any discriminatory side-

effects”. He continued: “I’m critical enough about discriminatory practices towards Arabs in real affairs,

that it sounds like a conspiracy theory to think that the law is aimed at constraining the reproduction of

Arabs in Israel” (interview David Heyd 08/08/2012 Jerusalem). A feminist scholar/activist agreed that this

concern is a theoretical non-issue since “Jewish women hardly donate in the new framework of the law

and Palestinian women never donate because of religious reasons, so it’s not really an issue in practice

(interview Yali Hashash 10/01/2012 Haifa). However, since Palestinian women indeed rarely donate egg

cells in Israel, this amendment ensured that they will also never benefit from an egg cell donation, unless

it’s approved by the Exceptional Committee.

Egg cell donations are not the only case in which interreligious mixing between Muslims, Christians,

Druze and Jews is forbidden in Israel. Interreligious adoption is not allowed, and similarly surrogate

mothers are required to have the same religion as the contracting couple (Kahn 2000). At a more

foundational level, interreligious marriages are forbidden in Israel since marriage is under jurisdiction of

the religious courts. The Israeli state has created strict boundaries between separate categories of

religion and thus ethnicity and is decisive to maintain these boundaries (Kanaaneh 2002). In the case of

the egg donations, Michal Nahman (2013, p. 186) recalled that rumors of cross-racial breeding triggered

an Israeli company to develop an embryo guard, “a device that would monitor the incubators into which

embryos were placed in order to ensure that no racial mix ups would occur”. However, in some cases

Jewish religion actually prefers cross-religious/cross racial mixing. For instance, in case of sperm

donation ultra orthodox Jews would rather receive sperm from a “goy” than from a Jewish donor out of

fear of birthing a mamzer, a person born of incest. Similarly, the law on Egg Donation holds an

 

10

amendment postulating that when an additional sperm donation is needed, the sperm cannot come

from a Jewish donor (Knesset, Law on Egg Cell Donation, 2010). As such, Asa Kasher, former member of

the Bioethics Committee concluded: “And to see that the law is not racist, just look at the fact that ultra-

orthodox Jews prefer the sperm donation of non-Jews” (interview 26/07/2012 Tel Aviv). Despite these

ambivalences, the Law on Egg Cell Donations should not strictly be understood by referring to religious

and existential questions of Jewishness, but it could also be evaluated as another example of Zionist

settler colonial biopolitics, not only by promoting Jewish natality and concurrently preventing Palestinian

natality, but also by rendering cross-racial/cross-religious kinship ties between Jews and Palestinians

more difficult.

4. Putting eggs in a different basket: Israel’s emerging stem cell economy

Another aspect that has been mostly overlooked in the Egg Cell Donation Law is that it is now allowed to

donate egg cells for scientific purposes, an accomplishment of Israel’s bio-medical establishment that

was overrepresented in the governmental committees (Shalev 2010, Hashash 2010). Since the new law

on Egg Donations an Israeli woman can donate maximum two eggs or 15% of the total egg harvest (the

one which is least) for research purposes 8. In order to better comprehend Israel’s permissive stance on

egg cell donation, one should also look at the ways in which this law has supported Israel’s emerging

stem cell sector and has strengthened its biotech-position in the global health and research market. For

eggs cells are not only destined for reproductive markets, but they can also be used for different types of

stem cell research. An egg cell can be given to an infertile woman to create a newborn baby, but it can

also be bio-technically reconfigured in a laboratory, using its pluripotency and renewability for the

production of human embryonic stem cell lines (Waldby 2009). Stem cell research has the potential to

radically transform the treatment of degenerative and chronic conditions such as Parkinson, Alzheimer,

Multiple Sclerosis or organ failures by developing regenerative therapies which aim to treat through in

vivo, tailor made tissue growth instead of organ transplant (Gottweis 2009).

Since the neoliberal turn of the 1970’s capitalizing life and capturing the biovalue (Waldby 2002) in

biological and reproductive processes has become a very globalized and lucrative business (Rose 2007).

This has transformed biomedical research into a profitable area of investment for the increasingly

volatile forms of financial capital that have dominated the global economy since the 1970’s (Arrighi 1994,

Cooper 2008). Israel refers to its biotech sector as “one of the brightest stars in Israel’s technological

galaxy” (Bell & Freireich 2006). Already from its creation the Zionist movement showed a keen interest in

science and technology, but since the late seventies this has gained momentum when Israel started to

position itself as major player in the global arena of biomedical research and development, with a special

focus on healthcare (Filc 2005, Prainsack & Firestine 2006, Nahman 2013). The financial crisis of the late

In the beginning of the legislative process researchers demanded up to 49% of the egg “harvest” for scientific use.

After critical interventions from the Israeli feminist organization Isha l’Isha it was eventually decided in 2010 that a

donor may choose to designate only a certain amount of eggs for scientific research: maximum two eggs or 15% of

the total amount of harvested eggs.

 

11

1970’s provided the opportunity to fundamentally transform economic thinking in the country that until

then was based on “developmental” principles such as state-led economic growth and import

substitution. The New Economic Policy (NEP) was introduced to radically break with this Zionist

“developmentalism” by putting a high emphasis on the export of high-tech products such as electronics,

military equipments and biotechnological and pharmaceutical products. In this process Israel emerged as

“the start-up nation”, the country with the largest number of start-up companies in the world in

proportion to its population (Senor & Singer 2011). As the Israeli cancer researcher and bio-tech

entrepreneur Avi Treves aptly phrased it: “Israelis are mainly entrepreneurs, it’s in their DNA” (interview

26/02/2012, Tel Hashomer). The stem cell sector constitutes a promising sector within Israel’s booming

bio-economy (Bichler & Nitzan 2002). Israeli start-up companies such as Pluristem, Cell Cure, Gamida Cell

and Kamidastem are considered to be “pioneers” in the area of cell therapy and regenerative medicine.

Since the stem cell research field was established in 1998, Israeli scientists such as Benyamin Reubinoff,

Joseph Itzkovitz-Eldor, Michal Amit and Nissim Benvenisty have been at its forefront. Of the first twelve

publications on human embryonic stem cells, ten included Israeli authors (Vogel 2002). In March 2002

Science Magazine described Israel as one of the leading countries in stem cell research (UKSCI 2006). The

Israeli government has helped considerably in establishing a national stem cell sector by directing

multiple million dollar research funds to this field, inaugurating cutting edge laboratories and helping to

launch start-up bio-tech companies specialized in stem cell therapies on the global health market.

In the process of developing a competitive stem cell sector, egg cells have emerged as a highly desirable

commodity in Israel. Brown and Webster (2004, p. 71) noted, egg cells together with other female

reproductive tissues such as placentas, embryos and umbilical cord blood “are increasingly used by

contemporary biomedicine as a generative site separate from the production of childrenthrough which

biological materials and information is harvested for scientific, medical and commercial purposes”. This

has created a very intimate relation between the assisted reproductive sector and human embryonic

stem cell research. Sarah Franklin (2006) has termed this close entanglement the IVF-stem cell interface

while Lisa Ikemoto (2009) refers to it as the maternal-embryonic nexusIn Israel this intimate relation is

very outspoken. The first stem cell lines that were developed in 1998 by the American researcher Jami

Thompson were created with the help of spare IVF embryos from the fertility clinic in Rambam Medical

Center in Haifa, where Joseph Itzkovitz-Eldor is not only head of the Obstetrics and Gynaecology

Department but also director of the Stem Cell Research Centre. When asking the well known stem cell

researcher Michal Amit why Israel has always been at the forefront of stem cell research, she

replied:“First of all, the good connections of Prof. Itzkovitz with Jami Thompson on a friendly and

scientific level, and the fact that in Israel you have a lot of surplus embryos. Israel is one of the leading

countries of IVF cycles. So if you do a lot of IVF, you have a lot of surplus embryos that nobody wants”

(interview Haifa 22/02/2012) 9. Hedva Eyal from the Women and Medical Technologies Program of the

feminist organization Isha L’Isha commented: “There is kind of a joke among researchers. They say that

most of the eggs that are circulating in global stem cell research around the world are coming from IVF

clinics in Haifa” (interview Haifa 28/01/2012).

It was actually Michal Amit who carried the spare embryos to Prof. Thompson’s laboratory in Wisconsin.

 

12

That ART and stem cell research are closely connected in Israel was clearly noticeable during the

parliamentary debates preceding the voting of the law on egg cell donations. The primary objective of

the 2010 Egg Cell Donation Bill was to regulate donations for the purpose of infertility treatment, but at

several moments during the debates high profile representatives of Israel’s bio-medical establishment

pushed forward the idea of adding of research as a valid ground for egg cell donation. In her research on

the medicalization of reproduction in Israel, Yali Hashash (2011, p.273) concluded that the role of

doctors, gynecologists and medical researchers has been crucial in the shaping of Israeli reproductive

health legislation and resource allocation. Her analysis of the protocols of the governmental committee

reveal that the biomedical lobby exerted constant pressure on politicians to pass the bill in order to

establish a legal framework for future scientific development (Hashash 2011, p. 288). She remarked that

during their interventions in the parliamentary debates these bio-medical agents used many discursive

strategies to allow egg cell donation for research purposes “ranging from minimizing the physical

dangers of extracting egg cells from women’s bodies to equating egg cells donations to an altruistic “gift”

exchange that should be encouraged.

At the time when the Egg Cell Donation Bill was first introduced in the early 2000s two Israeli stem cell

research teams were involved in conducting a specific type of stem cell research which required a large

amount of egg cells. Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT ) or therapeutic cloningis a laboratory technique

that tries to create personalized stem cells for regenerative therapies 10. The first one was the Stem Cell

Research Centre of the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, lead by Professor Benjamin Reubinoff.

The second one was the Stem Cell Research Centre of the Rambam Medical Center at the Technion in

Haifa, directed by Joseph Itzkovitz-Eldor. It were -among others- these two physicians/researchers who

appeared before the governmental committee to lobby for an Egg Cell Donation Bill that would allow egg

donation for research purposes. In 2004 Joseph Itzkovitz-Eldor intervened in the Knesset Committee by

stressing that the current Israeli legislation was killing all prospects of research. He added: “We should

not conceal that bio-technological developments are a national-state goal, and not only a personal goal

for the researcher who will take the stash and go home” (quoted in Hashash 2010, p. 287). Benjamin

Reubinoff testified before the Committee: “It is clear that the availability of human oocytes for the

procedure of somatic cell transplant is a crucial phase….these developments can only occur in countries

that allow the donation of oocytes for research” (quoted in Hashash 2010, p. 287). SCNT was a very

promising technique in the early 2000s, but it got drastically discredited due to the malpractices of Dr.

Hwang Woo Suk, a South Korean stem cell researcher who in 2005 fraudulently claimed to have cloned

the first human embryo. In recent years SCNT has been described as an inefficient process which

requires an excessive amount of oocytes in its attempt to clone a human embryo (Dennis 2006)11.

However, at the time when the law on Egg Cell Donations was first discussed SCNT still looked like a

10 This technique requires an unfertilized egg cell of which the nucleus is removed and replaced with the cell

nucleus from an adult body cell. The cellular machinery of the egg cell “reprograms” this adult cell nucleus back

into an embryonic stage allowing it to develop into an embryo. From this embryo a stem cell line can be produced

which is a genetic clone of the donor of the adult cell nucleus who could be a patient suffering from a degenerative

disease or organ failures. The resulting cell line would be immunologically identical and could possibly be used as a

transplant for the patient in need. (http://www.explorestemcells.co.uk/therapeuticcloning.html)

11 Moreover, SCNT has been scientifically surpassed nowadays by a technique called IPS or Induced Pluripotent

Stem cells by which fetal stem cells can be produced from adult cells without the controversial usage of egg-cells

(Yamanaka, 2006).

 

13

promising technique12. According to Michel Revel, former head of the National Bioethics Committee,

renowned molecular biologist and bio-tech entrepreneur, “the scientific use of the eggs at that time for

SCNT looked very important and we were concerned that it should be included. If it’s not in the law, you

make it almost impossible for Israeli scientists to work with those eggs. Today it’s not so important

anymore, but maybe tomorrow a discovery will happen that makes the use of unfertilized eggs important

again” (Interview Nes Ziona, 16/07/201). Sarah Franklin (2010, p.60) remarked that “every country in the

world that imagines itself a player in the future of regenerative medicine is busy passing regulation that

will facilitate public approval for industrial development of stem cell technology”. In Israel this regulatory

process is very obvious. In 1999 Israeli legislators introduced the Ban on Genetic Interfering which

outlaws only human cloning for the purpose of creating a person (reproductive cloning) while still

allowing therapeutic cloning for the purpose of generating human tissues. The Egg Cell Donation Law can

be seen as another example of Israel’s quest to legally entrench permissive assisted reproductive

practices in order to favour its bio-tech position in the global health and research market. As Michal

Nahman (2013, 53) put it: “Extracting oocytes out of women’s bodies is mining bodies for the creation of

surplus value, through the development of new techniques generating more research papers for scientists

and developing new pharmaceuticals associated with reprotech”.

5. Conclusion

The need for a Law on Egg Cell Donations was framed within a discourse of helping infertile women to

reproduce in a way that ethically and culturally corresponds to existential Jewish questions and without

pushing them into the illegal circuit of transnational ova trafficking. Among the controversial topics that

were discussed in the governmental committees on egg donations were the anonymity of the donor, the

desirability of allowing healthy women to donate egg cells and of paying female donors. By focusing on

two supposedly meaningless amendments in the law, I have argued that culturalist models focusing on

the centrality of reproduction within Jewish law and religion do not suffice in explaining Israel’s

permissive stance on egg cell donations. Concordant with the work of Michal Nahman and Yali Hashash, I

consider Israeli egg cell donations as state making practices in which processes of nature and culture

become entangled with ongoing histories of capitalism and settler colonialism. From a political economy

perspective I have contended that Israel’s policy on egg cell donations and assisted reproduction in

general were co-produced within a logic of capital accumulation to benefit its emerging stem cell

economy and within a logic of elimination to safeguard the demographic balance in its settler colonial

project. Michal Nahman (2013, 69) argued that “this national-global project is one in which the State of

Israel has always been enmeshed”. Israel is positioned within the global economy as a biotech hub, and it

has its own “local” settler colonial project in which it tries to create and enlarge a Jewish state based on

the erasure of a Palestinian collective and history.

By analyzing the case of egg cell donations Yali Hashash (2010) argued that the Israeli medical

establishment should not be viewed as a mere agent of an ostensibly homogenous pronatalist Jewish

12 On the 15th of May 2013 (after finishing writing this chapter) a team of American scientists announced that they

have, for the first time, cloned human embryos capable of producing embryonic stem cells.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2013/may/15/human-embryonic-stem-cells-adult-tissue

 

14

state, but that it has often acted in its own professional interest. I argue that both the interests of a

pronatalist Jewish state and its biomedical establishment have coalesced in creating a reproductive-

industrial complex in which –analogously to Israel’s military-industrial complex - the Zionist logic of

elimination and capital accumulation have converged. The bodies of Israeli women play a crucial role in

this process, not only as reproducers of the settler nation (Yuval-Davis) but also as providers of the raw

biological materials necessary to generate surplus biovalue.

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