Ultra-Orthodox Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman on Monday declared that Israel would call the new potentially deadly disease that has already struck two continents 'Mexico Flu,' rather than 'Swine Flu,['] as pigs are not kosher.
"We will call it Mexico flu. We won't call it swine flu," Litzman told a news conference on Monday, assuring the Israeli public that authorities were prepared to handle any cases.
Under Jewish dietary laws, pigs are considered unclean and pork is forbidden food, although the non-kosher meat is available in some stores in Israel.
Naturally, according to The Guardian (UK), "Mexico's ambassador to Israel, Frederico Salas, was duly dispatched to register an official complaint over the suggestion. The move prompted a hurried retraction from the Israeli government, which insisted it had no intention of changing the name."
Mexico's action makes sense to me, since they want to minimize the taint attached to their country in people's minds — the sort of thing that could affect tourism even once the outbreak is over and tourism is safe. They have no moral or good-manners entitlement to stop people from using "Mexican flu," but it certainly makes good sense for them to try to persuade people against the name change.
But what is possibly wrong with the name "Swine Flu," even from the perspective of people whose religion tells them that pig meat is forbidden to eat (and even "unclean")? Swine flu is unclean, too. It's not like someone is attaching a bad label to something that Litzman thinks is good, or a good label to something bad. (Contrast pork producers' worry that the label would subconsciously taint their products, which they think are good.) The label stems from what is at least a suspected scientific fact — that the virus is closely related to a disease of pigs. What reasonable objection, even accepting as given Orthodox Jewish religious beliefs, can there to be calling a deadly disease by a name connected to an "unclean" animal?
Thanks to Religion Clause for the pointer.