Israel to Compensate Soldiers Who Took Part in Anthrax Vaccine Experiments

Settlement between Defense Ministry and soldiers closes lawsuit, as state admits there were side effects, agrees to pay plaintiffs $6 million.

The government announced Sunday that it will pay tens of thousands of shekels in reparations to soldiers who participated in anthrax experiments between 1999 and 2005, following the settlement of a lawsuit filed by soldiers against the Defense Ministry.

The settlement agreement stipulates that the Defense Ministry must create a trust for the Israel Defense Forces soldiers who participated in the experiments – code-named “Omer-2” – and earmark 21 million shekels ($6 million) to fund it. The government will pay each of the 92 plaintiffs 36,000 shekels, which also covers their legal fees. Aside from the plaintiffs, every other participant in the experiments will receive a sum of 27,000 shekels. The settlement agreement also stipulates that, following these payments, the plaintiffs will have no further legal claims.

President of the Central District Court in Petah Tikva, Judge Hila Gerstl, legally validated the settlement. “This case concerns extremely important events, both on a national scale and on a personal scale for each of the plaintiffs as well,” wrote Gerstl in her court ruling. “I can only express my happiness that the government decided to act appropriately in working toward the settlement agreed upon today. There is no doubt that the plaintiffs are the salt of the earth, and worthy of proper treatment from the government. I wish good health for all of the plaintiffs, and all those who participated in the research.”

The Omer-2 experiments included 716 IDF soldiers and officers. During the experiments, the soldiers involved received shots containing a special inoculation, developed at the Institute for Biological Research in Nes Tziona, meant to combat the anthrax disease.

The goal of the research was to develop an inoculation for the general public. Officially, the participating soldiers volunteered for the experiment, but many later reported that they were pressured into doing so.

After the incident was uncovered, the Defense Ministry conducted an external investigation into the experiments, carried out by the Israel Medical Association. Various doctors and scientific experts were appointed to investigate. At the same time, a petition against the experiment was filed by the organization Physicians for Human Rights, in order to shed light on the issue of medical experiments being conducted on IDF soldiers.

In December 2008, the investigative committee published a report, which found grave fault with the way in which soldiers were recruited for the experiment, and the unscrupulous methods for achieving the soldiers’ consent – which included failure to inform them of the risks associated with the experiment.

In 2010, 92 soldiers filed a lawsuit against the government, through attorney Boaz Ben Zur. The lawsuit’s complaint included a statement that the ordeal involved an “experiment on human beings” who did not agree to participate.

Many participants have developed medical problems in the years subsequent to the experiment. The settlement agreement calls on the government to admit that side effects from the experimental inoculation have been found in some of the participants. These side effects were labeled by the government as “few and far between,” and included – among others – Crohn’s disease, thyroid inflammation, allergic dermatitis reactions and temporary kidney failure.

Although the settlement agreement did not force the government to take responsibility for the side effects, it was written that “in some cases, and in light of the specific circumstances of every case, it was determined, based on medical knowledge, that correlation between the aforementioned side effects and receiving the inoculation cannot be denied.”

The justice and defense ministries jointly announced the settlement yesterday. In their official message, the ministries stated that the settlement “saved years of legal proceedings,” and that it “both nationally and personally addresses each and every volunteer in the experiment.”

As part of the agreement, the experiments administration of the IDF’s chief medical office also committed to notify all participants of any new information regarding the experiment, inoculation or side effects as it becomes available. Also, the state has promised to answer any medical inquiries the participants might have regarding the serum with which they were injected.

A letter for participants and their families from the Victims of Anthrax Experimentation committee read, “After seven years of long, difficult struggle, we won. We set out to combat the IDF’s moral image as a Jewish army; we were not seeking reparations. What we fought for is an IDF that does not experiment on human beings, its soldiers, as if they are lower than lab animals, and then evades responsibility for the consequences. We’ve returned honor to the IDF command, but it’s a shame we had to do so through the courts.”

The settlement agreement was signed after long discussions, some of which took place with mediation from the former Tel Aviv district prosecutor, Miriam Rosenthal.

Baruch Brizel, a representative for the district prosecutor, said yesterday: “A decade and a half ago, the defense establishment discerned that Israel faced a grave threat in the form of anthrax. Israeli development of an inoculation against this threat was, and still is, a source of national pride, and an example of Israel’s ability to deal with threats. The inoculation’s effectiveness has been proven, and if Israel should face such a threat again, it is likely that the inoculation developed with the volunteers’ help will benefit all of us.”

Dan Keinan