Social Justice: The Health Connection

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In my mind, health issues are issues of social justice. This perspective sets Breast Cancer Action apart from most other breast cancer organizations and is the lens through which I see all matters of health. Everything is connected. I believe that if we recognize those connections and address the challenges they pose, the world will be a better place.

Breast Cancer Research Foundation: Missing the Environmental Connections

BCRF Cosmetics sold to raise money for breast cancer research

I wrote during October (Breast Cancer Industry Month) a few words about the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF), its connection to the Estee Lauder Cosmetics Company and the company’s refusal to remove carcinogens from the products they sell to raise money for BRCF. I directed readers to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics for more information about this issue.

The phenomenon of companies’ supporting breast cancer organizations or research while at the same time engaging in practices that are detrimental to health or social justice is called “pinkwashing.” .There are many examples, and the scope gets bigger and bigger as companies see that supporting breast cancer is the best way to look like a socially responsible player. The Komen Foundation is the queen of the practice, but BCRF is close behind.

The safe cosmetics issue is, as it turns out, not the only part of social and environmental justice that BCRF doesn’t get. I imagine most people know that drilling for oil is both

Drilling oil for breast cancer resarch. Oy.

damaging to the environment and ignores the need to find energy sources that won’t be depleted over time. But that doesn’t stop BCRF from taking money from an oil drilling operation. I really can’t make this stuff up.

BCRF and Israel: More Missed Connections

Evelyn Lauder, the recently deceased founder of BCRF was Jewish (as am I, as I explain in greater detail below). Her relatives are very involved in Jewish causes like promoting Jewish education. See, for example, the work of Laura Lauder, who married into the family and is widely regarded for her work in Jewish education (and serves on the board of the National Public Radio Foundation, no less).

While it may be very easy to applaud support of programs like Jewish education, ties to Israel-related causes can be considerably more complex given the heated passions stimulated by the Israel/Palestine conflict.

So imagine my surprise to see an email recently from a group called The New York Campaign For The Boycott Of Israel calling on the BCRF to sever its ties with Lev Leviev and stop accepting funding from his LVD Foundation.

Who is Lev Leviev? He’s a diamond mogul (see whose

Lev Leviev

companies have been engaged for years in building Jewish settlement housing in occupied Israeli territory, in violation of international law. His diamond operations in Angola and Namibia engage in human rights abuses of workers. He is also a man who thinks that if he gives to good causes like breast cancer, no one will notice what harm he is causing.

A Few Words About Israel and Anti-Semitism

There are many Jews (myself included) who support the existence of Israel as a Jewish State but believe that Palestinians also have a right to a secure state in the region. Such people are not anti-Semites, though they are often so characterized by those who believe that any criticism of Israeli policy is anti-Jewish.

I believe that if peace has a chance in the Middle East, that chance is completely undermined by extending illegal Jewish settlements into territory that should at least be considered for Palestinian Statehood.

Tell BCRF To Stop Taking Money from Leviev.

All social justice issues are connected. We can’t say we care about one and ignore all the others and hope to see more justice in the world. I do not support a general boycott of Israel, but I do believe that Lev Leviev should not be able to buy good will by supporting BCRF while his companies act as they do in Israel and elsewhere. Nor do I think that BCRF should give Leviev the cover of social responsibility if it cares about health.

If you agree with me, write to BCRF at and direct your message to the attention of Myra Biblowit, CEO of BCRF. And find Laura Lauder (the one who lives in Atherton) on Facebook and send her a message.

The power of ordinary people to create change by doing simple things should never be underestimated.

© Barbara A. Brenner 2011


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8 Responses to Social Justice: The Health Connection

  1. Wendell Ricketts says:

    Done and … almost done. I can’t find Ms. Lauder on FB. It may be that you scared her off and that she’s already “hidden” her profile. Other than finding out more than I cared to know about the Lauder Foundation and Lauder Partners, I wasn’t able to come up wit any other email addy for her. W.

  2. Ellen Leopold says:

    Great to see this story! Thank you! Now, if only we could see the full list of bigtime donors to ALL these foundations.

  3. Redwing Keyssar says:

    Thank you for always reminding people to connect all the important dots. THat seems to be the problem so often in our political/social/persona/healthcare arenas. I’m always amazed that people don’t connect the fact that the same companies that make chemotherapy drugs are the ones who make the chemicals–pesticides, additives, you-name-its that contribute to the cancers. (NOt to ever mention the fact that chemotherapy drugs were derived from chemical warfare in World War II). OR the fact that at our artistic and political functions, people sell food that is unhealthy and likely carcinogenic (diet coke; tons of sugar; hot dogs; junk food full of red yellow dyes number 1-100, etc etc etc). When DO we allow the “bigger dots” of war and environment and abuse and suffering to connect to our own comfort zones and habits and desire to not push any envelopes too hard? (Sorry, You got me on a ride Barbara~
    GO GIRL!!!…so glad you are still writing and pushing us all)

  4. abby abinanti says:

    moral consistency….a difficult task…a

  5. penny rosenwasser says:

    Thanks so much for this Barbara! Making these connections is so crucial. And as you clarify, taking these stands — for human rights for all people, including Palestinians — is far from anti-Semitic, as Jewish Voice for Peace ( consistently points out.

  6. cindy says:

    Barbara, thanks for sharing all of your knowledge with us all. It is good for us all to be educated on these matters to help make a difference.

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