AIDS - AP - 10012012
Nelson Mandela, right, and AIDS activist Zackie Achmat. it has long been fashionable − glamorous, even − to take part in the struggle against AIDS. Photo by AP
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In the Israel of 2012, many of the basic rights of HIV carriers are still being violated. Insurance companies refuse to provide them with executive insurance, nursing care, risk insurance or life insurance. Since Israeli banks won't approve housing loans unless customers have life insurance, HIV-positive people don't get mortgages. Dentists often discriminate against them as well.

In the Israel of 2012, models, artists and other public figures who help raise funds for charities do not campaign for AIDS victims, as they do in other countries, or take part in events affiliated with the Israel AIDS Task Force.

In the Israel of 2012, many of the children who carry the virus that causes AIDS are not aware that they do so. The stigma associated with the disease and the fear that their children will be ostracized or embarrassed prompt many parents to refrain from informing their children that they are HIV-positive. The families don't let outsiders see the names of their medications, and work to keep their frequent medical checkups, blood tests and hospital visits under wraps.

Over time, AIDS has become more of a chronic illness than a death sentence. The life expectancy of HIV carriers treated with a cocktail of AIDS drugs is almost the same as that of the rest of the population. In the past few years, many of the estimated 6,000 HIV carriers living in Israel - including 2,400 women and 200 children - have been dating non-carriers. Some such mixed couples get married and have children.

But while patients with other diseases - cancer, say - can tell their family and friends about their suffering and expect to receive empathy and support, the ignorance and preconceived notions so prevalent in Israeli society lead many HIV-positive people to conceal a significant part of their lives.

In September, I wrote an article for this newspaper about romantic relationships in which just one of the partners is HIV-positive, which illustrated the extent to which the lives of carriers have improved. Many of those interviewed for the article were young, impressive people with careers and families. They spoke openly, but refused to have their name or picture published in the newspaper. Their biggest fear of all was, and remains, exposing their identity.

One consequence of that fear is that in Israel, the campaign for greater awareness of AIDS has lacked a recognizable face. But that is slowly changing.

Two executive directors and a chairman of the Israel AIDS Task Force - Patrick Levy, Rami Hassman and Gideon Hirsch - have come out to the media as HIV-positive since 1995. Choreographer and dancer Sahar Azimi did so in November. His latest performance, "Cell in a Human Scale," is about AIDS.

On December 1, World AIDS Day, an activist in the Israel AIDS Task Force, Alon Madar, announced that he is HIV-positive. The group recently launched a campaign it calls "Breaking the Stigma," as part of which two other HIV carriers - Barak Gaon and Rami Gershuni - have announced their status.

If in the past, Israeli carriers agreed to be interviewed as part of a fight to live longer, by having the government subsidize treatment for AIDS drugs, now they are increasingly fighting for an improved quality of life and the right to live as the equals of anyone else.

In many Western countries, it has long been fashionable - glamorous, even - to take part in the struggle against AIDS. Celebrities and artists are regularly photographed at campaign events and help raise funds. In September, Israeli model Bar Refaeli, who has never attended an event of the Israel AIDS Task Force, was seen with fashion designer Kenneth Cole at a prestigious AIDS fund-raiser.

It is to be hoped that this trend, long overdue, will soon come to Israel as well.

Read this article in Hebrew