(photo credit: Courtesy Israel Medical Association)
The Israel Medical Association has asked lawyers in the UK to demand a written apology from Dr. Derek Summerfield, an honorary senior lecturer at London's Institute of Psychiatry, and to sue him for libel if he does not retract his accusations against the IMA and its longtime chairman, Dr. Yoram Blachar.
Summerfield has accused the IMA of "covering up" Israeli doctors' alleged collaboration in the "torture" of Palestinian prisoners. The IMA denies any such collaboration or torture in security prisons.
Five years ago, Summerfield wrote a biting editorial in BMJ (the British Medical Journal) sharply criticizing Israel for its dealing with Palestinians, and was also active in pushing for a British academic boycott of Israel.
Most recently, he has campaigned for the dismissal of Blachar as president of the World Medical Association, the umbrella group of national medical associations, even though Blachar's term is now expiring.
The IMA, whose members constitute 95 percent of the country's physicians, posted on its Web site this week an announcement that it will no longer have any dealings with Physicians for Human Rights-Israel after its founder and president, Dr. Ruhama Marton, signed Summerfield's petition for kicking Blachar out of the World Medical Association.
Blachar told The Jerusalem Post that he "won't accept the PHR-Israel's letters with complaints and accusations, or answer them."
He dismissed PHR-Israel director Hadas Ziv's statement that Marton "is president, but she signed the petition as an individual and not as a representative of PHR-Israel."
Blachar denied that any Israeli doctor has participated in or allowed torture of Palestinian prisoners, and said that such behavior would be illegal. "If PHR-Israel has complaints against our members, why has it not filed a complaint with the police?" Blachar asked.
Ziv told the Post that boycotting her organization or refusing to have dealings with it was unfortunate and senseless. "We as an organization did not sign Summerfield's petition. The IMA, which accuses us of anti-Semitism, doesn't like to be boycotted itself, so why does it boycott us," she said.
But she added that the IMA refusal to deal with PHR-Israel will not affect its operations. "Health Ministry director-general Prof. Avi Yisraeli and the ministry legal department do correspond with us," she said. The voluntary organization sends doctors to the territories, runs medical clinics for Arabs and foreign workers and receives complaints against alleged abuse.
Since last month, the IMA - with help from the Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization of America, has collected thousands of signatories in an online counterpetition (www.petition.fm/petitions/ima) against Summerfield's petition.