Hadassah hospital 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
After intensive efforts by Israelis and American Jews, the American Public Health Association overwhelmingly rejected last week a resolution that had virulently attacked Israel for its medical practices toward Palestinians.
Despite months of lobbying by anti-Israel activists and a desperate last minute petition drive, the 141st APHA annual meeting and exposition held in Boston. defeated an anti-Israel resolution by 74 to 36 votes. The resolution was discussed by the association’s Joint Policy Committee. The anti-Israel campaign was led by activists of BDS, the global movement for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, which was initiated by Palestinians in 2005 and is coordinated by the Palestinian BDS National Committee established two years later.
The prestigious APHA describes itself as “the oldest and most diverse organization of public health professionals in the world.” The Washington, DC-based professional organization for public health professionals has more than 30,000 members worldwide.
It defines its mission as: “The Association aims to protect all Americans and their communities from preventable, serious health threats and strives to assure that community-based health promotion and disease prevention activities and preventative health services are universally accessible in the US.”
A boycott would have caused great damage to Israel’s image in medicine, according to Prof. Elihu Richter – the main combatant against it and associate professor and former director of the Unit of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the Hebrew University- Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine.
The pro-Israel health professionals charged that the BDS campaign was using “improper information” to influence APHA members to vote in favor of boycott – such as that Israel allegedly refused to medically treat Palestinians and grant access to public health when needed.
BDS activists Amy Hagopian, Nancy Stoller and Cindy Sousa presented a committee of APHA with a document titled “Improving Health in Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
Pro-Israel health professionals said the document was based on “sloppy science and a universally sloppy conclusion – that Israel is always to blame.
They presented ‘facts’ devoid of context and come to the conclusion that BDS is the answer. They discuss life expectancy in Gaza, without noting that it is significantly higher than the world average of 66.57 years or that it far exceeds that of its neighbor, Egypt.
They discuss stunting, without context – the Palestinian territories have the second lowest rate of stunting in the region. And they blame Israel for the high rate of birth defects in the region, ignoring the enormous role of consanguineous marriages in the occurrence of congenital malformations. They write about the ‘decline in amount of food consumed,’ without mentioning the Western levels of obesity, and efforts to control that as a public health concern.”
Richter and colleagues said the authors of the BDS document “largely ignore the huge role Israel has played in providing health services to the Palestinians and throughout the region.”
In a letter to Hagopian, Richter wrote that he had “been involved in joint work with Palestinians and others in the region going back 30 years in epidemiological investigations, training and advocacy and have been involved in teaching, training and working collaboratively with Palestinians. I work in a medical institution where the day-to-day reality is of Jewish and Arab patients receiving equal treatment by Jewish and Arab doctors and nurses.”
He added, “I have seen the bad as well as the good. Through the 1980s, I was active in Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHR-I), where we worked to improve the individual and public health of Palestinians, including assessing prison conditions for Palestinians in Israeli jails. Among other issues, I was PHR-I’s expert witness in a case at the Israeli Supreme Court on the potential health risks of Round-Up, a herbicide, on the health of Beduin in the Negev.”
Richter said he was concerned that APHA’s 2013 annual meeting was focused on Palestinians but not on Syria, where some 120,000 civilians have died and an estimated two million people were turned into refugees in the past two-and-a-half years.