Anthropology department hosts Fulbright scholar

“Israel has very good access to health care,” Fulbright scholar Nora Gottlieb said. “If you’re not a citizen or Jewish migrant you do not get this care.”

On Feb. 25, Gottlieb visited New College and gave a talk on migrant health care rights in Israel. She came to campus through the Outreach Lecturing Fund (OLF).

According to the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES), the OLF allows Fulbright scholars to speak at institutions that are “underrepresented in the Fulbright program.”  This refers to colleges that might not be able to afford Fulbright speakers otherwise.  For Gottlieb’s lecture, the OLF paid for transportation, and New College provided an honorarium.

According to Professor of Anthropology Maria Vesperi, Gottlieb was at the University of Florida (USF) in Tampa giving a presentation with Heide Castañeda, an associate professor of anthropology at the university. Castañeda recommended New College to Gottlieb, who reached out to Vesperi.

The lectures scholars give through the OLF are meant to increase cultural awareness for both the scholar and the audience, while also allowing for an exchange of ideas between the scholar and faculty.

“I was impressed with the presentation and the way she situated the case study, government response and the role of NGOs,” Vesperi said.  “I think we were able to draw parallels to the United States.”

The talk began with an introduction. Gottlieb noted that she has been in the United States for almost a year and is currently working with the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois in Chicago on a Fulbright postdoctoral fellowship.

She received her Ph.D. at the Faculty of Health Science of Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva, Israel and continued to work with the university on a PRAT post-doctoral research fellowship.

Though originally from Germany, her work mainly focuses on migrants’ and ethnic minorities’ health rights in Israel.

“I’m a migrant myself,” Gottlieb said. “I think I began studying what I do out of my own interest. I mean, I am a Jewish migrant. I was privileged. I still feel like I have a bit of a story to tell.”

Gottlieb’s talk was titled “Medical Humanitarianism, Human Rights, and Political Advocacy. The curious case of the ‘Open Clinic’ in Tel Aviv-Yafo.” It discussed the story of an open clinic in Tel Aviv, the second largest city in Israel, that purposefully closed in order to improve migrant access to health care.

The clinic opened in 1998 under the Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, a non-governmental organization (NGO). Gottlieb began volunteering at this clinic in 2006, at which point the average number of patients seen daily was 10 to 12. In the middle of 2006 this number increased into the hundreds. The clinic was overrun with patients and had to turn many away.

It was discovered that these patients were asylum seekers from North East Africa that crossed into Israel through the Sinai Peninsula and then-open border. The original catalyst for this migration was an open shooting by Egyptian officials during a demonstration where 27 individuals were killed.

During this time, the staff at the clinic began seeing that these patients were more destitute and had no other place to turn besides the one open clinic in Tel Aviv.

“Israel doesn’t have an active asylum system,” Gottlieb said. “So typically what would happen is these individuals would cross the border and be picked up by military personnel. The military personnel wouldn’t know what to do with them, so they’d be taken to the police. They would be detained and then after a few days they would be released at a central bus station at Tel Aviv.”

When Israel asked Egypt to address the problems leading to the asylum seekers, the response was the use of armed force at the border. Additionally, many individuals used existing smuggling and trafficking networks in the Sinai Peninsula. Traffickers began holding people hostage, either asking for ransom or subjecting them to human trafficking. The clinic began seeing patients with gunshot wounds and burns, and the number of women asking for abortions skyrocketed.

“In the middle of all this mayhem, it was hard to step back and think ‘what is causing this?’” Gottlieb said.

Eventually the clinic brought the situation to light. However a solution was still needed. The clinic was overfilled and close to collapse. Gottlieb noted that conditions were inadequate from a medical standpoint, with no confidentiality and the risk of infectious disease spreading.

As tension formed between the humanitarian work and political work of the clinic, staff and administrators began considering the role of the institution.

According to Gottlieb, it was decided that the clinic was not fulfilling principles or political goals, because as long as it was operating, the government “could sit back and pretend the problem didn’t exist or that they had a solution.”

The clinic shut its doors and stopped operating. At first the problem was brought to the public eye and it seemed as though the outcome would be positive.

“The Israeli Ministry of Health asked for a budget to treat asylum seekers,” Gottlieb said. “This was in part due to very sympathetic media coverage and public discourse.”

Soon, anti-immigrant sentiments took over. No solution was reached. The government established a new clinic in Tel Aviv. A few months later, the original clinic reopened.

“Until today there is no solution for asylum seekers’ healthcare,” Gottlieb added.

Gottlieb discussed NGOs roles in state policies in our world today where “neo-liberal policies are shrinking the welfare state while immigration regimes are tightening.”  As more marginalized groups form from this, NGOs can either fill the vacuum or demand political change.

Gottlieb gave an engaging lecture. About 15 people were in attendance.

“I thought Nora’s presentation and paper did a really great job at bringing awareness of a refugee migration that I was not previously aware of,” third-year Garrett Murto said in an email interview. “Furthermore, I think it was very important that her discussion centered around the clash of long term political goals and immediate humanitarian goals. It’s a theme that is sure to be important to be understood in many other humanitarian aid scenarios.”

Gottlieb currently works at the Chicago Department of Environmental Health and Safety Management. She noted that the two main projects she works with are access to worker’s compensation and community based health in a primarily Latino area.

“It’s mainly a learning experience for me,” Gottlieb said about her work.

According to Vesperi, Gottlieb researched New College before she came.  She was impressed by how informed students were on a variety of topics and the questions that they asked.

“Dr. Gottlieb gave a beautifully organized and insightful presentation, and it was really valuable to hear her experiences as someone who not only researched the clinic, but spent considerable time volunteering there,” second-year Christina Harn said.


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