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Behind the Headlines; a Suicide and Television Confront Israelis with Aids

Israelis this week came face-to-face with the problem of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). It confronted them on their television screens and triggered widespread public alarm, if not panic.

For the first time, Israel Television broadcast a documentary on the disease which threatens to become the “Black Plague” of the 20th century. Broadcaster Michael Karpin went on the air and, in a voice pregnant with menace, warned that it can happen “to any of us.”

Immediately after the half-hour program, the television studio was swamped with telephone calls from frightened viewers. Many asked where they could be checked for the illness. Others wanted more detailed information from the telephone operators.

35 CASES DIAGNOSED

Israelis had heard of AIDS, of course. But only 35 cases have been officially diagnosed in the country to date — 23 of them Israelis, the others, foreigners. All were either male homosexuals, drug addicts contaminated by unsterilized needles or persons infected by blood transfusions.

The television program Tuesday night showed an Israeli drug addict who was apparently exposed to AIDS in Amsterdam. An Israeli doctor was shown visiting him and administering medication which was not identified. The victim was not identified, nor was the location of his home.

Israeli society is far from tolerant toward homosexuals. A week before the program, the media carried the story of the suicide of a 32-year-old Israeli physician, Dr. Uriel Yossipovich, a homosexual who was convinced he had AIDS, though he was not among the 35 diagnosed cases.

Dr. Dan Michaeli, director of Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv where Yossipovich was employed, said he might have been exposed to AIDS anti-bodies and panicked. According to medical opinion, the presence of AIDS anti-bodies in the bloodstream does not necessarily mean the carrier has the disease or will become ill.

Yossipovich may have feared the social consequences of the report of his homosexuality. The newspaper Yediot Achronot criticized the television program Wednesday for bias against homosexuals, particularly for referring to them as “homos” and asking a doctor in an interview what controls he thought should be imposed on homosexual behavior.

If Israelis do fear homosexuality, it can be attributed in part to ignorance on the subject, and consequently ignorance about AIDS and a disinclination to confront it. Several years ago, a well known Israeli director produced a film, “The Infected,” which told the story of a homosexual.

But unlike the situation in the U.S. and other Western countries, few Israeli homosexuals dare to appear in public or on radio or television panels. Their sexual orientation is kept secret because homosexuality is not accepted here as a valid lifestyle.

But AIDS has brought the problems of homosexuals, if not their identities, to light. Last year the Health Ministry established the first of seven centers at local hospitals to check for the AIDS virus. Prof. Avraham Morag, head of the clinical virology department at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical Center, appeared on the television program to urge the public to make use of those centers.

The head of the Education Ministry’s family and sex education unit agreed that much more needs to be done in the area of sex education before the health authorities can be assured that every effort is being made to prevent the spread of AIDS.

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