Zionists stop medical talk after campaign

Two lectures by Israeli-based charity Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I) were cancelled after a Zionist organisation told hospitals holding the talks that they were “anti-Israel”.

Miri Weingarten from PHR-I was due to give a lecture, entitled The Right to Health in a Conflict Zone, to three hospitals in Manchester, Liverpool and Bury last week.

But just hours before the lecture, the Manchester Royal Infirmary and Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool cancelled the event.

Karen Solomon, director of the Zionist Central Council in Manchester, sent more than 200 emails to members urging them to contact the hospitals.

Ms Solomon said that the original plan was to send members to the meeting to dispute some of the topics.

She said: “We felt the talk was political and hospitals should not be seen to be political or hold political events. The group is blatantly anti-Israel and so we asked people to write in to say what we felt.”

A spokeswoman from the Manchester Royal Infirmary said that they had received complaints from the Jewish community and that the event was cancelled for security reasons.

She said: “It was gaining quite a lot of negative feeling and it was felt that it might attract people turning up that would be against the meeting.”

Louise Shepherd, chief executive at Alder Hey Hospital, said: “It came to our attention that what was intended as a private meeting had in fact become public knowledge and was being trailed on various websites as a political issue.

“This was augmented by accompanying display boards which arrived earlier that week and which contained explicit political content.

“Alder Hey is, and will continue to be, apolitical and has a proud heritage of actively promoting a culture of equality and diversity. For these reasons a decision was taken to cancel Ms Weingarten’s visit to the Trust.”

Ms Weingarten, PHR-I’s director of advocacy, said she was “shocked” at the decision and surprised to be called anti-Israel. She vehemently denied that PHR-I was anti-Zionist.

She said: “My organisation finds it shocking that communities that are so outspoken against the growing calls for a boycott of Israeli bodies could use the same tactics themselves in order to stifle debate.

“If the people behind this had come to the debate and challenged the content of my talk that would have been an important contribution. The decision to silence us — and the debate — completely is incomprehensible to us, and unacceptable.”

A consultant at Fairfield Hospital in Bury, where the lecture went ahead, said: “The whole idea that PHR-I is antisemitic or even anti-Israel is ludicrous given that the organisation is overwhelmingly comprised of Jewish Israelis, of whom Miri is one.”

    Last updated: 5:46pm, October 29 2009