(photo credit: Courtesy Israel Medical Association)
The Israel Medical Association (IMA), the Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization of America and other groups here and abroad have launched an online "counter-petition" by physicians, to fight the anti-Israel petition signed by 725 doctors criticizing IMA chairman and outgoing World Medical Association (WMA) president Dr. Yoram Blachar.
The original petition was spearheaded a few weeks ago by Dr. Derek Summerfield, an honorary senior lecturer at London's Institute of Psychiatry and a teaching associate at the Refugee Studies Center at the University of Oxford.
In 2004, he wrote a biting editorial sharply criticizing Israel for its dealing with the Palestinians that appeared in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that aroused much controversy. He was also active in pushing for an unsuccessful British academic boycott of Israel.
The IMA has already collected nearly 3,400 signatories on the counter-petition at www.petition.fm/petitions/ima, and aims at getting at least 10,000, an overwhelming number compared to those who signed Summerfield's petition.
Summerfield's petition said it was aimed at "publicly protest[ing] and appeal[ing] against the recent appointment of Dr. Yoram Blachar - longstanding President of the Israeli Medical Association - as President of the World Medical Association."
However, Blachar was elected president of the WMA a year ago and is now completing his term. His tenure as head of the umbrella organization of national medical associations was uneventful.
But Summerfield, described by the IMA as having "a lifelong agenda of criticizing Israel" with an "inexorable venomous campaign against Israel" who has written innumerable letters to the editor of the BMJ and The Lancet journals, has used allegations by Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights and the United Against Torture Coalition to claim Israel's security services, with "collaboration" by Israeli doctors, torture Palestinian prisoners.
Blachar, now in the UK to attend British Medical Association meetings, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that the "statements and accusations raised were very general and did not allow us to verify any claims. There were allegations made of torture, but no names were provided. The only evidence brought was the testimony of the prisoners themselves.
"Only in the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) report were names mentioned. We then made an effort, according to the best of our abilities and the resources in our possession, to check each name," he said.
Blachar said that Prof. Avinoam Reches, chairman of the IMA's Ethics Committee, personally spoke with each and every physician cited in the report that he was able to locate. However, details were incompletely or inconsistently listed in the report, so it was not possible to reach them all.
Most were never employed by, nor had any connection to, the Israeli Prison Services, the IMA said.
"Of the three who were employed there, all vigorously denied any involvement in interrogations, torture or medical approval for the above," he said.
Summerfield also accused Reches, a distinguished neurologist at the Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem, of being "personally involved in torture," an allegation regarded as ridiculous by Israeli physicians who know him and his work.
The IMA continued: "Whatever political views one may hold, we firmly believe that politics has no place in medicine. Medicine is meant to serve as a bridge, not a divide. The intermingling of medicine and politics is dangerous, particularly when opinions, presented as facts, are presented on the pages of medical journals.
"Legitimate protests are fine; the cynical exploitation of medicine in advancing political and/or anti-Semitic agendas crosses the line," the statement continued. "We view the current situation as extremely dangerous for the future of Israeli medicine, of academic freedom and international cooperation."