February 29, 2000
New York Times
JERUSALEM - An Israeli newspaper reported Monday that an internationally known Israeli singer had died last week of complications from AIDS.
The report set off a debate about whether the paper Ha'aretz had crudely violated the privacy of the singer, Ofra Haza, or whether it had done a public service by refusing to treat AIDS as an illness whose name cannot be spoken.
Haza, a Jew whose family Came from Yemen, rose from Poverty to stardom in a way that inspired many Sephardic immigrants to Israel. She did not want public exposure of her illness and went so far as to keep it secret from hospital workers who first treated her in an emergency room two weeks ago, Ha'aretz said.
In an editorial Monday, the newspaper said it had felt compelled by widespread whispering about the cause of death, including broad hints on the evening news programs, to lift "the fragile tissue of Silence, stretched tenuously over a fervor of rumors."
When Haza died on Wednesday at the age of 41, after 13 days in the hospital during which her fans maintained an around-the-clock vigil, the news media reported the cause as organ failure.
That was as it should have been, a Health Ministry spokesman said.
"There was a consensus to keep silent, even after her death," said Yoram Malca, the spokesman. "I think today Haaretz broke all the norms and ethical and moral standards that we still have in this country. I think that it's a person's right to guard his privacy. What do we have left in life, or after our deaths, if not that little bit of knowledge that we can live and die with dignity?" A mezzo-soprano who developed an international reputation, Haza sang traditional and pop music and emphasized her roots by performing in elaborately brocaded traditional clothing. She had club hits in Europe, Asia and the United States and sang the part of Moses' mother in the movie "Prince of Egypt."
But she was equally well known in Israel - where Jews with roots in Yemen have had a hard time breaking out of the underclass - for the inspirational narrative of her life.