10 August 2009

Israel Medical Association Defends Torture Doctors and Cuts Ties with Israel's Physicians for Human Rights

Israel Medical Association Breaks Links with Israeli Doctors Opposed to Torture

British Doctor Derek Summerfield Threatened with Libel Action by the IMA

Today's Haaretz (10.8.09.) carries a report that the Israeli Medical Association (IMA) has cut all links with the Israeli branch of Physicians for Human Rights. The head of the IMA, Dr Yoram Blachar is also President of the World Medical Association. There have been repeated calls for his removal from this office because of his and the IMA's consistent refusal to address the issue of the participation of Israeli doctors in the torture of Palestinians.

One would have thought that Israeli doctors, conscious of the involvement of Nazi SS doctors like the infamous Dr Josef Mengele in the torture and diabolic experiments on Jewish children and twins, would have been the last body to condone the involvement of medical personnel and doctors in torture. Not so. Instead the primary concern of the IMA has been to defend the doctors involved and rebut allegations of involvement in torture.

For some 14 years IMA, and myself at its head, have served as a defensive barrier between international anti-Israeli bodies and the doctors of the State of Israel, against baseless attacks, according to which, inter alia, the doctors of the State of Israel are allegedly actively involved in the torture of Palestinian prisoners, and/or are accused of allegedly ignoring such phenomena.

As Blachar himself states:

The infuriating reality is that the activities of PHR-Israel constitute fertile ground for anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist anti-Semitism.

This is the only concern of Blachar (& Israel's Supreme Court itself legally permitted the use of 'moderate physical pressure' as a result of the recommendations of the Landau Commission, chaired by former Supreme Court judge Moshe Landau). It is universally acknowledged that torture of Palestinians in Israel is routine (see e.g. the report of Israel's main human rights organisation, Btselem). See all the article (below) from Haaretz 24.6.09. on the systematic use of torture in Israel.

Tony Greenstein

IMA cuts ties with PHR over call for ouster of Israeli head of World Medical Association

By Dan Even
In an unprecedented move, the Israel Medical Association announced this month that it was severing its contacts with the Israeli branch of Physicians for Human Rights.

The decision was made after the president and founder of PHR-Israel, Ruchama Marton, signed an international petition calling for Dr. Yoram Blachar's ouster as president of the World Medical Association. Blachar is also president of the IMA.

But PHR insisted that Marton signed the petition in her individual capacity and not on behalf of the organization. "The organization does not support the dismissal of Dr. Blachar from the presidency of the World Medical Association and calls for professional conduct to be maintained," said PHR's director, Hadas Ziv.

Marton added: "The petition was naturally signed by private individuals and not organizations. I am happy that I signed, but I signed as a private individual."

In his letter to PHR, Blachar wrote: "The damage caused by [your] organization is great. We have pleaded with the organization's administration to refrain from using the international arena to besmirch and sling mud at Israel's doctors, but to no avail. We have decided to cut off all contact with the organization, and I hope you deal with the matter as your conscience dictates."

His announcement sparked harsh criticism from PHR, a nonprofit organization whose members include some 500 Israeli physicians, among them senior doctors. Most PHR volunteers are also members of the IMA, which represents about 95 percent of Israeli doctors.

PHR warned that the decision to sever contact would cause serious damage to the medical system, including by disrupting patient referrals between the clinics for foreign workers and refugees that the IMA and PHR both run in south Tel Aviv.

It also expressed concern about how the rupture would affect exchanges of data regarding patients, including prisoners, who need treatment, and professional cooperation to promote issues such as the elimination of patient copayments for medication.

"The severing of contact is serious," said PHR's Ziv. "We are not interested in taking steps that make the situation worse; we believe in dialogue instead."

Criticism echoed

Several local physicians who volunteer for PHR echoed the organization's criticisms.

The IMA said its exceptional decision was made in light of the cooperation between PHR and Derek Summerfield, a British physician who claims that Blachar has justified torture of prisoners for over 10 years. Summerfield was one of the initiators of the petition to depose Blachar as president of the World Medical Association. To date, the petition has attracted 725 signatories from 43 countries. But the IMA recently circulated a counterpetition in support of Blachar's presidency that has attracted 5,500 signatures.

Blachar's term as IMA head will end in September after three terms in office. His successor as president of the World Medical Association is expected to be elected in October.

PHR recently released a list of 12 physicians who, according to testimony in a report published by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, participated in the torture of Palestinians. But IMA ethics committee chairman Prof. Avinoam Reches, who looked into the matter, concluded that there is no evidence linking these physicians to torture.

"I was provided with the names of physicians who denied in every way possible that they engaged in torture in the course of interrogations," Reches said. "The ethics committee has no legal power to investigate the allegations beyond talking [to the doctors]. From the doctors' tone, my impression was that they are telling the truth."

PHR's Ziv said in response that "the Israel Medical Association conducts complex ethics investigations, but in this instance, it avoided a comprehensive examination."

Moreover, PHR members said, the chief physician of the Israel Prison Service is a member of the IMA ethics committee, and that could influence the standard of the IMA's investigation.

Blachar, however, said the IMA "has explicitly stated our opposition to the torture of prisoners and detainees jailed in Israel ever since the High Court of Justice ruling [on the subject] in 1999."

"Dr. Marton is president of Physicians for Human Rights, and her signature is identified with the organization," Blachar added. "If the organization says it will stop its activity in the international arena to defame, slander and sling mud at Israel's doctors, we could reconsider contacts with it."

The IMA's legal department decided last week to file a defamation action against Summerfield, the British physician who was one of the initiators of the petition drive against Blachar.

Letter from Dr Derek Summerfield & 725 Doctors calling on the World Medical Association to Remove Dr Blachar as its President

Dear Dr Hill and WMA Council

Further to our original open letter and subsequent material (we await acknowledgement of receipt), we think you and the Council should see this letter from Dr Blachar as IMA President about Physicians for Human Rights Israel.

We find this so remarkable and outrageous that we have sent it today to Fiona Godlee, Editor of the Brit Med Journal, who have already carried a news item on our call to you. As we say, this must be a first! Where does it place the WMA as a body to have a President resorting to such crude cynicism in seeking to dismiss the evidence base and those who have contributed to it on a matter as grave as torture and doctors' collusion with it.

This is Dr Blachar working hard to defend the utterly indefensible. This is the collusion we are talking about!
As before we would be grateful if you would distribute this to Council members.

We appeal to the WMA Council to take a principled step with the greatest international resonance.

We are anxious to hear from you and are concerned that Dr Blachar may be pressurising you into not responding so that we get ever closer to the end of his tenure in October/November.

Yours sincerely

Dr Derek Summerfield, on behalf of Prof Meyers and 725 sigs.

To doctors who are members of PHR-Israel
21 July 2009:

IMA Chair, Dr. Yoram Blachar, publishes a letter in which he explains to doctors who are members of PHR-Israel, why IMA has decided to sever all contacts with the association.

To doctors who are members of the PHR-Israel association

I appeal to you first of all as Israeli doctors who are members of IMA and additionally as members of PHR-Israel. I want to share with you my hard feelings following recent developments.

For some 14 years IMA, and myself at its head, have served as a defensive barrier between international anti-Israeli bodies and the doctors of the State of Israel, against baseless attacks, according to which, inter alia, the doctors of the State of Israel are allegedly actively involved in the torture of Palestinian prisoners, and/or are accused of allegedly ignoring such phenomena.

These are baseless accusations that are expressed, for instance, in medical journals such as the Lancet, the BMJ and the Journal of the Royal College of Medicine.

Unfortunately, various organizations, and particularly PHR-Israel are contributing to the international offensive against us. For years we have appealed to PHR-Israel to give us the personal details of those who were allegedly involved in torture so that we could relate to each case individually – but we received no such details from PHR-Israel.

On one single occasion, about 13 names were transferred to us, of doctors who were allegedly involved in torture or degradation of Palestinian detainees, by the organization PCATI (Public Committee Against Torture in Israel) and not by PHR-Israel. An investigation into the subject, held by Prof. Reches, the head of IMA's Ethics Board, showed that among the doctors accused, some had never worked in those facilities, and three who had worked there, categorically denied any connection to the accusations. Of course the accusations are "based" on one-sided testimonies with no supporting evidence. By the way, since participation in torture is a criminal offence, the accusers are free to submit a complaint to the police or to the Attorney General.

I would like to state that we are open to criticism and in several meetings that the leadership of IMA held with the Board of PHR-Israel we clarified our position. Nonetheless, we objected strongly to criticism when it was expressed in international fora. Time and again, we begged PHR's Board to avoid using the international arena, blackening names and slinging mud at the doctors of Israel and at IMA, but in vain. The infuriating reality is that the activities of PHR-Israel constitute fertile ground for anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist anti-Semitism.

It would seem that this issue reached a new climax when about one month ago a petition signed by 725 doctors was published, calling for my expulsion from my position as the president of the World Medical Association (WMA). Dr. Ruchama Marton, President of PHR-Israel, also signed this petition!!!

It is important for me to emphasize that in any case I am about to end my role at WMA in October, so that the personal issue is marginal. The issue is much more problematic, and it involves the harnessing of the world medical community to a struggle against us, the doctors in Israel , and against the Israeli medical system, supposedly as part of the regional political system, and by blackening our names and slinging mud at us doctors.

Matters have gone so far, that in one of the discussions held this week in the annual conference of the British Medical Association (BMA) (to which I was invited as president of the WMA), a stormy discussion was held in which very hard and baseless accusations were directed at IMA and the State of Israel. The discussion was polarized and reached a point where the situation in the State of Israel was compared in the same breath to the situation in Darfur and Sri Lanka, states in which, as is known, genocide and blood baths are taking place!

The speakers at the conference stated several times that they had drawn the information that they were basing their claims on from PHR-Israel and that if an organization of Israeli doctors makes such a claim, who are we, the Moslem and anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli doctors, to doubt the credibility of information from PHR-Israel?!!.

What was absurd was that it was our friends at the BMA who prevented the members of the conference from adopting hard resolutions at the end of the discussion, and they were the ones who assisted us in withstanding the rising wave of Israel-haters.

The damage caused by this activity of PHR-Israel against IMA is great and it hurts each of us – it is an expression of a clear position against the medical community in the State of Israel and against the organization that you are members of!

I do not thing that there are differences in our worldview with regard to torture and involvement of doctors [in torture]. In order that there should be no doubt about it, although I feel that in the light of the position we have voiced repeatedly, it is superfluous to emphasize that IMA and myself as its leader are strictly opposed to torture and to degrading treatment of Palestinian or other prisoners and detainees. We demand that a doctor who was witness to torture or to its consequences report it – all according to the international conventions of the WMA of which we are signatories.

The leadership of PHR-Israel directs accusations against us in the international arena in a manner that is very difficult to erase, in the face of growing tendencies of waves of anti-Semitism. I wish to stress that IMA is not a political body and any attempt of PHR-Israel to tie the policies of the government to the policies of IMA is irrelevant.

I deliberated for a long time about whether I should appeal to you, since IMA has always been open to criticism, but from the feelings I get on the ground, I think not all of you are aware of this activity of PHR-Israel and of the damage it is causing to the doctors of the State of Israel and to IMA.

In the light of the above, IMA has decided to sever all ties with PHR-Israel and I hope that you will act in this regard in accordance with your conscience.


Dr. Yoram Blachar
Chair, IMA

Last update - 17:07 24/06/2009
Rights group: IDF, Shin Bet restraint practices tantamount to torture
By Haaretz Service  

Israeli security forces inflicting 'pain and humiliation' on Palestinian detainees, says group report.

Israel's security services came under fire on Wednesday for its methods of restraining Palestinian prisoners during questioning, which a new report claims are tantamount to torture.

The report by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) describes "pain and humiliation" suffered by Palestinian detainees at the hands of members of the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service.

The report, which is based on interviews and investigations into 574 arrests and interrogations over the last year, argues that Israeli organizations, in particular the IDF and the Shin Bet, habitually bind detainees in a painful and humiliating manner, often constituting torture.

In defiance of Israeli law, High Court rulings and international laws and guidelines, detainees in Israel are usually bound in a way that is designed to cause them pain, and not only to prevent them from escaping, the report says.

This binding, the report says, is implemented with the express purpose of punishing detainees, frightening them and illegally extracting information and even confessions. The report claims that a large proportion of those exposed to this practice are Palestinian security prisoners, but this approach has also begun to manifest itself in the treatment of other prisoners.

"It stands to reason that this type of binding is used to dehumanize the Palestinian detainee, who is subject to the mercy of the occupying regime," the report says. "This type of behavior by members of the authorities, as this report demonstrates, can be classified as humiliating at the very least, and in certain cases as abuse and torture, which are prohibited both morally and by law."

The report begins with the committee's mission statement, explaining that the group was established in 1990 "in response to long standing government policy that allowed the systematic use of torture and abuse during Shin Bet interrogations."

"The committee operates to protect the rights of detainees and prisoners and to promote an absolute ban on torture, as is dictated by democracy and moral values, as well as international law," the group declares.

The IDF told Channel 10 TV in response to the report that the military adheres to international law and Israeli law and abides by all the guidelines when it comes to the detention of "terror activists who endanger the security of the state of Israel and the safety of its citizens."

The IDF makes a point to ensure the safety of all detainees from the moment of their capture, the army said, adding that it views with severity any unnecessary harm caused to detainees, and thoroughly investigates all claims of abuse, taking punitive action where necessary.

I have added this comment to the article, as for technical reasons it can't be posted.

Excellent summary Tony. A number of us have been trying to get the BMA (Brit Med Asscn) to make a public response and in particular to answer two questions, amongst others:
1. Will the BMA now press the IMA to investigate properly the PCATI report findings on torture?

2. Should not the BMA investigate thoroughly the allegation that the IMA’s stance as it currently appears contravenes the Tokyo Declaration?
The BMA has proved extremely reluctant (to say the very least). Dr Blachar attended (my understanding is that it was by invitation) the recent annual general meeting (Ann. Repr. Meeting) of the BMA in Liverpool. I hear that he was an honoured guest.
I am pretty much of a newcomer, relatively, to this issue—others have been trying, literally for years, to get the BMA to act.
Recent replies to myself from a BMA representative have included the following:

1st email (which was sent as a standard "universal" reply to many of us)
23 June 09
The BMA has been looking into the issues raised by the recent protests regarding Dr Blachar. It goes without saying that this is an issue that generates very strong feelings, and is riven by claims and counterclaims that are very difficult to substantiate. In our understanding, the main substance of the concerns relate to the role played by Dr Blachar as both President of the Israeli Medical Association and President of the World Medical Association. The argument is that Dr Blachar's term as President of the WMA is compromised by the fact that, under his Presidency, the IMA has been complicit with medical involvement in torture. Although each side in the dispute refuses to accept the credibility of critical external witnesses, Amnesty nonetheless describes routine medical involvement in torture by Israeli interrogators, and the BMA views Amnesty's reports as credible. There is not, however, credible evidence that the IMA has directly supported this. We have in fact been forwarded many items, signed by him over a number of years, sent from the IMA to the Israeli Defence Force pointing out that medical involvement in torture is a violation of international medical ethics. In July 2007, for example, as President of the IMA, Dr Blachar wrote to the head of the Israel Security Agency (ISA), Yuval Diskin, pointing out that doctors employed by the ISA are prohibited from taking part in acts that might be perceived as torture. As President of the WMA Dr Blachar has also supported calls for both sides in the dispute to respect medical neutrality.
Having said this, as is widely known, in a letter to The Lancet in 1997, Dr Blachar refers without criticism to Israeli guidelines permitting the use of 'moderate physical pressure' during interrogation. It has subsequently been accepted that this can amount to torture and/or inhuman or degrading treatment. In 1999 the Israeli High Court ruled such practices illegal. Dr Blachar does not, in his letter, go so far as to condone medical involvement in such interrogation. Nevertheless, Dr Blachar's letter has been heavily cited by his critics as condoning such medical involvement, and it has been clearly seen in some quarters as undermining his authority. As President of the World Medical Association, which explicitly forbids medical involvement in torture, we recognise that this puts him in a difficult position.
Overall, however, and on the basis of imperfect and contested information, although Dr Blachar's position as joint President of the WMA and IMA is a difficult one, in our view he has made authoritative statements as President of both organisations calling on the Israeli Defence Force, and any doctors operating under its remit, to respect international ethical standards.
2nd email - 13 June 09
I think all reasonable people, irrespective of their personal views, recognise the complex nature of this conflict, and the difficulty that it presents to those who wish to approach it constructively and even-handedly. It is, as I said in my earlier email, riven by claims and counterclaims. It is also an area in which critics of each regime use extremely broad brushes. Many of the critics of Dr Blachar, for example, seem to imply that the IMA and the IDF are somehow synonymous - that the IMA must be at least implicitly supporting the IDF. The BMA is clearly British, but we have a complex relationship with the various Governments that compromise the UK, a relationship that is, at times, openly critical and hostile.
If the BMA were to make a public call for Dr Blachar's resignation we would need to do so on the basis of strong evidence, evidence that would, if required, stand up in a court of law. A lot of the evidence is, however, inferential, and, as stated in my earlier email, the BMA does not regard it as appropriate to act in the absence of reasonable proof. The evidence of breaches of human rights and medical neutrality on both sides of this conflict is clear. What is less clear is the extent to which the IMA and therefore, by extension, Dr Blachar, is directly involved. And against that there is the evidence we have seen of the IMA and Dr Blachar protesting on behalf of those at risk from IDF actions.
We will continue to monitor the situation.
[I responded to several of these points - BR]

3rd email - 4 August 09
It is gratifying that there is general agreement on the complexity of this conflict, and the difficulty in identifying objective and politically neutral sources of authority.
Where I think there may be some confusion however is in relation to the nature and scope of the BMA's role. As you know, the BMA is a trade union and professional association for doctors. Its role is to protect and promote the interests of doctors and of the medical profession. It has neither the authority nor the resources to mount investigations into medical involvement in human rights abuses.
Our approach has always been to work with appropriate domestic and international bodies, in order to promote the underlying goals of the Association. Our human rights work, for example, is heavily reliant on the information that we receive from Amnesty. Where we receive unambiguous confirmation from Amnesty in relation to the violation of human rights in health, or in relation to medical professionals, we will make a public call to the countries concerned. This we have done in the past in relation to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Otherwise the work we undertake depends on discussion and debate and the arts of moral persuasion.
The challenge of some of these issues for a democratic and member-led organisation was clearly in evidence at this year's Annual Representatives' Meeting. There were voices raises that were critical of Israel and by extension Dr Blachar, others were raised in support. In the end, no substantive policy was passed. Despite this, we remain committed to promoting the highest ethical standards in medicine and I can assure you that we will continue to keep a close eye on developments in Israel/Palestine, and to use a variety of channels to make our concerns known.

Dr Brian Robinson

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Tony for posting the BMA correspondence re the IMA / Blachar.



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