Doctors blast BMJ over ‘one-sided’ letter on Israel

The anti-Israel letter was signed by 215 people


A group of 70 doctors have written an open letter to the British Medical Journal (BMJ) to protest about a “deeply shocking and disappointing” anti-Israel letter that it published two weeks ago.

The group of medics argue that the BMJ should never have published the original letter, which blamed “Israeli military occupation and restrictions placed upon the Palestinian population” for the violence.

The anti-Israel letter was signed by 215 people. One of the first signatories was Dr Swee Ang, an orthopedic surgeon, who sent a round robin email to her contacts in 2014 endorsing an antisemitic video made by former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke. Dr Ang later claimed not to have known who Duke was.

One of the organisers of the letter of complaint, who asked to remain anonymous, said the journal had allowed itself to be used for one-sided, inflammatory political debate that had no place in a medical publication.

“It risks encouraging racism at a time when many doctors and patients feel vulnerable and afraid of the biased and threatening response of some colleagues to Israel’s right to self-defence,” the doctor said.

Medics should “focus on fulfilling their professional roles by avoiding engaging in emotive public political debates in professional forums,” the letter said, adding that divisive, politicised content undermined relationships with colleagues and vulnerable patients.

The open letter cited several recent antisemitic incidents aimed at patients and other healthcare professionals, in the wake of the recent Israeli military action in Gaza. 

These included racist comments on the 21,000-member female doctors’ Facebook group Physician Mums’ Group UK, where several Jewish doctors felt intimidated and left. 

One female GP, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “This has been going on for a while. The admins of the group finally closed off a discussion that had spiralled into nasty racist attacks. 

“It escalated quickly and some doctors were messaged privately by pro-Palestinian doctor activists, some of whom have now been reported to the General Medical Council.”

Signatories to the letter have chosen to keep their names private, saying they fear escalating racism in the workplace and beyond. Many, though not all, are Jewish.

In their letter, the doctors drew attention to the use of the cellar of Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital as a base for senior Hamas officials, branding it “deplorable, placing doctors and patients at risk.”

The letter also condemned Hamas for taking Israeli hostages, including Avera Mengitsu, a man with a mental health condition who accidentally crossed into the Gaza Strip in 2014, and also Hisham Al-Sayed, an Israeli civilian hostage “with complex special needs” held by Hamas since 2015. The correspondents wrote that they “deplore the taking of vulnerable hostages… or the holding to ransom of dead”. 

Hamas also holds the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in the 2014 war.

Conversely, the group of doctors described Israeli hospitals as “a model of coexistence both for doctors and patients”. 

Cancer treatment had been provided to the niece of Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Centre, the letter said, “even while Hamas launched rockets directly towards that area”.


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