An Insight Into Israelis' Outlook on Pregnancy

Zippi Brand's documentary 'Google Baby,' which won an Emmy last week, documents a contemporary trans-continental process of baby 'production.'

On Monday night director Zippi Brand Frank became the first Israeli documentary filmmaker to win the Emmy award. Brand won the Emmy, the most prestigious award in American television, for News and Documentary, in the Outstanding Science and Technology Programming category.

"Google Baby," the film she directed, which was produced for Israel's Yes satellite TV broadcaster, is a journey that begins in Israel and moves among three continents, and describes the modern process for "producing" a baby. Israeli semen is flown to the United States via FedEx, where it is fertilized by an egg donated by an American woman. From there the frozen fetuses are flown to India and implanted in the uterus of a local surrogate mother. Nine months later, the baby, which is an international project, is handed over to the excited parents. The world "globalization" takes on far-reaching significance.

Zippi Brand - Marc Bryan-Brown
Zippi Brand at the News and Documentary Emmy Awards last week.Marc Bryan-Brown

Since the production was completed, "Google Baby" has won many prizes, from first place in the Israeli DocAviv Festival in 2009 to the important Magnolia International Documentary Prize at the Shanghai Film Festival. It has been successfully screened on the HBO network, which also submitted it to the Emmy competition, on the Arte channel and on Britain's Channel 4. During that entire period, Brand, whose husband, Zvi Frank, was a co-producer of the film, managed to give birth to two daughters and to win the Emmy while in a state of advanced pregnancy.

In an interview with Haaretz, Brand said she was surprised by how her film and the ideas behind it are being received worldwide.

"The film really did begin in Israel, and as an Israeli I was unaware of the country's status as a fertility empire. Every Israeli woman is entitled to funding for fertility treatments. In the Western world it's not taken for granted that women will do anything possible in order to become pregnant, and yet there's a market, a bustling worldwide industry that deals with it. I had never noticed the extent to which we emphasize the 'consumer' side and don't pay attention to the side of the 'supplier.'

"Apparently in terms of timing, this is a time when the world is interested, and this interest is strong enough to overcome the gaps. The possibility of ordering a child for yourself in such a technical manner, like buying jeans over the Internet, is an issue with ethical implications."

She says that making the documentary gave her insights into the Israeli approach to pregnancy.

"In the Western world the birthrate is declining to one child per family. In Israel the bon ton is three. We live in a very family-oriented society. An American family is divided and scattered all over the country, with family members sometimes meeting only twice a year. In Israel, if you missed a Friday night meal, something's wrong. For Israelis it's taken for granted. For others, especially in the West, it's not at all clear that if you don't become pregnant naturally you continue to insist.

"In Europe most of the countries are Catholic and surrogacy is forbidden by law. In Germany, which isn't Catholic, surrogacy is forbidden for ethical reasons and for fear of exploitation. The interest being aroused by the film everywhere in the world where it is screened is understandable."

She says she has drawn conclusions about Israelis from this experience.

"Israel is a very family-oriented society. Even among the gay population we have the highest birthrate in the world. Tammuz International Surrogacy [a firm that ties up all the ends of the international operation and makes the process easier for couples, including same-sex couples], the project of Doron [Mamet], who describes himself as a 'baby producer,' which I follow in the film, is the best proof of that. In Israel children are the way of being accepted into the family and society. They went ahead and made a child or twins, and then they're a family like any other, and that's amazing. It's something you don't see in the Western world."