Thousands back embattled Israeli doctor over accusations of complicity in torture
Thousands of people this week signed a petition backing the Israeli president of the World Medical Association, following a campaign to impeach him for alleged complicity in torturing Palestinians.
The impeachment campaign began shortly after Dr. Yoram Blachar assumed the presidency of the ethical body in November. It picked up following last month's publication of a report by Israeli human rights groups alleging Israeli doctors were complicit to torture.
In June, 725 physicians from 43 countries signed a petition for Blachar's removal, claiming that the Israel Medical Association, which he heads, has ignored evidence that doctors working in detention facilities are allowing torture. Blachar denies this.
"We are fighting to immunize science from politics," said Nancy Falchuk, president of Hadassah, who organized the petition to support Blachar.
Though it does occasionally help counter anti-Israel initiatives, Hadassah is not a major player in this field. "We remain above politics," Falchuk said, but added that after 97 years of involvement in Israeli medicine, "we know the accusation is not true."
The campaign to impeach Blachar - a 68-year-old pediatrician from Rehovot with 40 years of medical experience - is being spearheaded by Derek Summerfield, a psychiatrist and member of the U.K. Medical Committee for Palestine. Blachar said he intended to sue Summerfield for libel.
Furthermore, Blachar says that 60 percent of the doctors who signed the petition for his removal as president are Arab or Muslim.
Hadas Ziv, director of Physicians for Human Rights - an Israel-based group that coauthored the report that fueled the petition against Blachar - said she finds the ethnicity of the cosignatories "irrelevant," and called the argument "very problematic."
Ziv says that while her organization believes the Israel Medical Association is not doing enough to prevent torture, her group nonetheless opposes the boycott motion. She noted the organization did not sign the petition against Blachar.
However, Blachar says that Physicians for Human Rights are "actively creating an atmosphere that generates boycott and anti-Israeli motions." He noted that the 725-doctor letter includes the signature of Ruchama Marton, the PHR founder and president.
Speaking from Liverpool, where he is attending the annual conference of the British Medical Association, Blachar said: "PHR is perceived by non-Israeli doctors as the ultimate authority on Israel. They don't know it's a politically-motivated entity."