Torture-row doctors stick the knife in

By Leon Symons, May 27, 2009
New role: Dr Yoram Blachar (right) at his induction with  Dr Ed Hill (left)

New role: Dr Yoram Blachar (right) at his induction with Dr Ed Hill (left)

The Israeli president of the World Medical Association has attacked critics who have called for his dismissal over allegations that Israeli doctors have been involved in or condoned the torture of Palestinians.

An open letter, said to have been signed by 725 physicians from more than 40 countries and sent to Dr Edward Hill, chair of the WMA council, has attacked Dr Yoram Blachar’s appointment saying it will “seriously damage the public reputation of the WMA and its work and risks making it a laughing stock”. A press release accompanied the letter signed by Dr Derek Summerfield, Dr Blachar’s main critic.

The letter claims: “Under Dr Blachar’s leadership the Israel Medical Association (IMA) made a decision, on political grounds, years ago to turn a blind eye to torture in Israel and the institutionalised involvement of doctors. This stance continues with Dr Blachar as WMA President. On an issue that goes to the heart of the moral authority of the profession, Dr Blachar has offered shameful ethical leadership to doctors in Israel and worldwide.

“We call upon the WMA Council to oblige Dr Blachar to step down as a matter of priority.”

But Dr Blachar insisted: “I have no intention of standing down. It’s a joke.

“My view [of the letter] is that if we go through the names only partially, you will see that many of them are Arab physicians, either from Arab countries or working elsewhere in the world. It’s not surprising that they found a platform for their anti-Israeli attitude.

“The second reason is I have responded many times to their allegations and nobody has been prepared to listen to my responses, which take into account all the allegations from Derek Summerfield and his cronies.

“It seems Dr Summerfield, who is behind this initiative, is simply obsessed with the task of hurting the IMA and hurting me. It’s a personal vendetta against me which has gone on for many years.”

Dr Blachar said the IMA had been given the names of physicians allegedly involved in torture. “Three of them were not even members of the IMA,” he said. “So we couldn’t do anything. The chairman of the ethics committee spoke to the three physicians and they denied the allegations. There were three other names of men working within the prison authorities, who also denied any wrongdoing.

“You must notice that all the inquiries and investigations have come from information that has come only from Palestinians. There is no outside corroboration from anyone else and they base everything on that.”

He said he had not decided whether to respond or not. “We will decide in a few days’ time as we have only just received the e-mail. Our experience from the past is that if we respond, it just brings another initiative and then another.

“I did attempt to meet Dr Summerfield some years ago but he refused to meet me. We are faced with an obsessional person. He is a psychologist — so he should know.

“The WMA has just hosted an event in Tel Aviv with 130 participants from all over the world.”

On the question of a general boycott of the Israeli medical profession, Dr Blachar, who has held senior posts with IMA since 1995, said: “Some of the signatories are ex-Israelis, which smacks of self-destruction and is inexplicable to me. The boycott initiative is rooted only in Britain.”

A full list of the UK signatures

Last updated: 1:11pm, May 27 2009