David Katz

The NHS must act now to stamp out bigotry

The alleged mistreatment of Jewish child in a major UK hospital makes this need more urgent than ever


Badges picturing the Palestinian flag and reading a message in support of Palestinians (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

March 27, 2024 15:20

Has there been a surge of antisemitism in British medicine since the Hamas terror attacks on October 7?

The recent reports about a nine-year-old Jewish child being mistreated in a major UK hospital make this question more urgent than ever.

Here is the evidence so far. In 2021, four doctors were reported to the General Medical Council (GMC) – the British regulator for medical professionals – and in 2022 none. Since October 7, 66 doctors have been reported, with at least 13 of these investigated by the Jewish Medical Association UK (JMA) for alleged breaches of both the IHRA definition and GMC standards. And a basic snapshot survey of Jewish doctors and healthcare professionals in late 2023 showed a majority felt they had experienced recent antisemitic behaviour.

Is this a true surge? The NHS survey 2022 showed 30 per cent of Jewish staff had experienced discrimination. This was consistent with past data. Earlier in 2023, the JMA reported a doctor – an office holder in the British Medical Association (BMA) – for saying on social media that the Holocaust was a hoax and that more Jews should have been gassed. If the GMC does claim to uphold public confidence in the profession this means acting promptly to allegations about antisemitism, but this has not yet happened. Taken together, all this suggests that bigotry has been a problem in the NHS for much longer than the past few torrid months.

Perhaps it’s better to say that October 7 revealed antisemitism rather than triggering a new surge. That, however, ignores the sheer breadth of antisemitism that has arisen. Doctors have testified about daily incidents such as the promotion of anti-Israel material, the advertisement of protest events and the demonisation of Jews.

Comment from official medical organisations morphed rapidly from recognition of the October 7 massacre to criticising Israel for the destruction and human tragedy in Gaza. The slogan “from the river to the sea” has become the anthem of anti-Israel protests and has been taken up by peer healthcare groups that ignore its obvious significance. Medical students report days when they are advised by colleagues not to attend. There has been no response from British medical organisations about the abuse and rape of women. Weaponisation of the Holocaust against Jews has surfaced. Reporting of anti-Israel-related medical events takes priority over other international affairs, and this is true in professional journals as well. The claim is made that it is the “Zionists” who are at fault, but this is often a euphemism for “Jews”. Comments about “decolonisation” have to be seen for what they are – a call for demolition of Israel.

The NHS chief executive declared zero tolerance of racism on 8 October including antisemitism, but delivering this policy within a huge organisation is difficult. Education about antisemitism across all staff levels is a major undertaking. Experience about antisemitism within other healthcare providers is not encouraging, but documenting it is difficult.

Wearing badges and signals of identity is common. But is a Palestinian symbol one of faith? How do such symbols resonate in the doctor–patient relationship? Why is antisemitism so prevalent in medicine? Is it because we are trained to empathise, to connect, and this is how the Palestinians and Gaza are perceived?

Certainly, there has been a surge in antisemitism in medicine since October 7. If the claims about this child are true, the threshold for calling out antisemitism has risen far too high. Leaving it to Jews to call it out is not acceptable.

Professor David R Katz is executive chairman of the Jewish Medical Association

March 27, 2024 15:20

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