Medical lobby outed over its boycott agenda

By Simon Rocker, May 2, 2008

A Jewish human-rights group declined to co-sponsor a meeting about Israel’s medical treatment of Palestinians because some of its organisers are linked to the boycott campaign.

A group calling itself the Medical Committee for Palestine hosted visiting speakers in London this week from the medical organisation, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHRI).

But the Jewish Forum for Justice and Human Rights backed out of jointly sponsoring a public meeting in Hampstead, North-West London on Monday after discovering the boycott links.

The Medical Committee appears to be a newly formed group with barely any information about it available online. But contact details for this week’s event list Derek Summerfield and Professor Colin Green, who have previously called for the boycott of the Israel Medical Association and its expulsion from the World Medical Association.

Tony Klug, a member of the forum, said: “The person who initially contacted us about the meeting inadvertently mentioned it was being organised by the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians. Had it been MAP, we would have been agreeable to co-sponsoring it.”

But the forum changed its mind when it discovered the committee was “not a medical charity but a group whose leading members have a strong political agenda, including advocacy of a boycott”.

Monday’s meeting on “health and human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories” was followed the next day by a panel discussion at the Royal Society of Medicine on “abuses of medical care under Israeli occupation”.

The PHRI delegation, who were also due to speak at meetings in Brighton and Exeter, consisted of its acting president Ruchama Marton, executive director Hadas Ziv, and Miri Weingarten, director of its Occupied Territories department.

Professor David Katz, founder of the anti-boycott Fair Play Medical Campaign and deputy chairman of the Board of Deputies’ defence and group relations division, attended the Tuesday event.

“Their presentation was not pro-boycott,” he told the JC. “But in response to questions from the audience, they said they were in favour of a boycott of the Israel Medical Association.

“I was surprised, given that one of them said that the board of the organisation they were representing was opposed to such boycotts.”

PHRI is a broad organisation with 1150 members that work for Israelis, Palestinians, asylum-seekers and migrant workers unable to get medical treatment. Its projects include running mobile clinics on the West Bank.

One of its senior members is Professor Raphael Walden — the son-in-law of Israeli president Shimon Peres — who spoke to the Board of Deputies and Liberal Judaism last month.

According to Karen Worth, of Nottingham Progressive Jewish Congregation, writing in the current issue of Liberal Judaism Today, Professor Walden described “the very poor health facilities for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. He feels the Palestinians have a role in this themselves and noted that they do not receive help from the Palestinian diaspora or often from Arab nations.”

Many of those who heard him, she added, had afterwards said that they would consider including Physicians for Human Rights in their synagogue’s Kol Nidre Appeal.

Last updated: 3:52pm, May 13 2008