Top surgeon tells Limmud of campaign to have him struck off

Received hate mail: Professor Baum

Received hate mail: Professor Baum

One of Britain’s leading cancer surgeons has told a conference how his support for the Israel Medical Association sparked a campaign to have him struck off by the General Medical Council (GMC).

Professor Michael Baum told a packed session at the annual Limmud conference at Warwick University that colleagues — including Jews — in the medical profession had turned on him after he challenged the accusation made by some that the Israel Medical Association (IMA) was complicit in the torture of Palestinian prisoners.

His session was called “The academic boycott of Israel: are the Jews among the worst antisemites?”

Professor Baum said he had first become involved “as an innocent” in June 2007 when the British Medical Journal invited him to write an article for an online poll arguing against an academic boycott of Israel. “You’re lucky if 2,000 get to vote on any issue. They had 23,000 votes online,” said Prof Baum, 72, who is emeritus professor of surgery and visiting professor of medical humanities at University College London.

“There were also rapid online responses. The views I got were extremely hurtful and extremely abusive, not to mention the hate mail I got both electronically and by post. It was also the first time I had experienced antisemitism in my life.”

Then Professor Baum encountered Dr Derek Summerfield, who led a lengthy campaign to unseat former IMA chair Dr Yoram Blachar after he was elected president of the World Medical Association in 2008.

Dr Summerfield set up a meeting at the Royal Society of Medicine attended by Jews for Justice for Palestinians and Physicians for Human Rights Israel, which reiterated the accusations against the IMA, and against Dr Blachar personally.

Professor Baum said the personal attacks culminated in a letter sent to everyone on the BMJ website — invoking the name of the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, who carried out hideous experiments on Jews during the Holocaust — which accused him of covering for Israeli doctors.

It also said he should be ashamed of himself and that the GMC should revoke his licence to practice medicine. “This was written by a Jew,” he said.

“That’s when the campaign to get me struck off started — the worst ignominy any doctor can suffer. They collected signatures and tried to accuse me of complicity with IMA practices. Any attempt to defend myself provoked more anti-Israel and antisemitic rhetoric.”

The surgeon went to the Community Security Trust for advice because he was worried about his and his family’s safety. He admitted to his audience that he broke down in tears during a private meeting with Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor.

He and a colleague, Professor David Katz, decided to try to find out why Israelis were fighting Israelis and set up a meeting between the IMA and Physicians for Human Rights Israel. During the meeting in Israel in December 2008, Dr Blachar pleaded with PHRI to cease its attacks through both the BMJ and The Lancet, the other leading medical journal.

The two Britons thought they had a deal that would have stopped the accusations against the IMA but only five days later, Professor Baum claimed, PHRI launched another attack.

Both the BMJ and The Lancet ran special editions critical of Israel during what was called “Israel apartheid week” last February.

Professor Baum said he had now taken himself out of the firing line and instead was helping both Palestinians and Israelis through a charitable trust set up in the name of his late brother David.

Last updated: 1:50pm, December 31 2009