Standing Up for Israel in the Health Sciences: A Matter of Integrity

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When academics at the Modern Language Association rejected a resolution supporting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions early this year, they essentially aligned themselves with the pro-Israel camp.  By rejecting an academic boycott of Israeli institutions, voters at the MLA conference upheld the integrity of scholarly exchange – and kicked political shenanigans to the sidelines, where they belong.

At Doctors Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (DARA), we followed the MLA saga from the start, when we recognized the telltale signs of agendas being injected into areas where they can only do damage. As health care professionals, we have seen this game before in our own fields of expertise.

We saw it last May, when the World Health Organization singled out Israel, claiming that it violated Palestinians’ health rights. The resolution, which passed 107-8 with eight abstentions, was co-sponsored by the Palestinian delegation and the Arab bloc but received the imprimatur of France, Germany and the United Kingdom. It stressed “the impact of prolonged occupation and human rights violations on mental, physical and environmental health and on the development of a sustainable health system.”

We saw it last November, when Doctors Without Borders unveiled its “In Between the Wars” project in Dubai. Previously shown in Jordan and France, the exhibition claims to give visitors a look at the day-to-day lives of Palestinians living in West Bank and Gaza. Instead, it adopts the Palestinian narrative as a piece.

Battles between Palestinians and Israelis are rendered as David-and-Goliath tableaus, with “icons symbolizing the struggle of the Palestinian people against the Israeli occupation.” Reference is made to Palestinian “martyrs” and the “Naqba” – literally meaning catastrophe, it is the Palestinian word to describe Israel’s establishment in 1948.

And we saw it in 2014, when the Lancet published an “Open letter for the people in Gaza,” during the conflict there known as Operation Protective Edge. We responded forcefully to the article, which among its other falsehoods accused Israel of a “massacre.” The journal’s editor-in-chief, Dr. Richard Horton, later said on a visit to Israel that he “deeply, deeply regrets” publishing the letter.

If prestigious publications such as the Lancet struggle to uphold their scholarly standards, no journal is truly safe. We monitor the literature for similar breaches, publicizing them via email, social media, and mainstream media.

Turning to the wider world, we continue to see the politicization of medicine and health care by advocacy groups who turn a blind eye to inconvenient facts about Israel that would dent their simplistic representation of the country.

Most recently, they have ignored Israel’s medical work with Syrian refugees. The two countries remain technically at war, but the wounded regularly flock to the country’s northern border in the Golan Heights – well over 2,500 refugees have received care to this point.  Sometimes army medics patch them up and they return to Syria. Many receive care in Israeli hospitals, such as Ziv Medical Center in Sefad.

“In the past we used to know Israel as our enemy. That’s what the regime used to tell us,” one Syrian told Reuters. “When we came to Israel we changed our minds, there is no enmity between us.”

Israel’s humanitarian efforts are hardly confined to the country’s health-care excellence.  In Germany, medical clowns from Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv have eased the trauma of Syrian refugees living in temporary shelters. The group, which travelled under the auspices of the “Dream Doctors” organization, also educated German staff on medical clowning.

While some of Israel’s contributions have received coverage in mainstream media, they are rarely if ever acknowledged by groups who long ago decided that nodding to Israel’s accomplishments weakens their anti-Israel talking points.

Similarly, they ignore the remarkable integration of Palestinian health-care practitioners into the Israeli system. According to 2011 figures from Israeli government’s civil service commissioner’s office, 12.5 percent of doctors in the public health system are Arab, as are 11.3 percent of nurses.

While these data points represent less than the overall Palestinian portion of the Israeli population – which stands at 20 percent – the numbers still count as a success story. Palestinian representation in the public sector at large stands in the single digits. What’s more, Arabs number about 35 percent of pharmacists in the country.

This integration mirrors Israel’s longstanding high quality of health care for all its citizens – and even, famously, for perpetrators of terrorist attacks, who receive treatment in some of the country’s finest hospitals after targeting civilians.

While we were founded in Canada and focus on Israel, we advocate for medical, scientific and academic neutrality around the world.  In 2013, we spoke out forcefully when Turkey’s then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan compounded his crackdown of protesters in Istanbul’s Gezi Park by arresting doctors who tended to the wounded. Then, when an Ankara court dismissed the government’s lawsuit against the Turkish Medical Association for its principled professionalism, we shared the celebration of our Turkish colleagues.

These are heady times at DARA. We continue the battle for the integrity of our profession and health care organizations around the world, confident that some matters are too important to be politicized. Groups such as the World Health Organization or Doctors Without Borders only undermine their credibility when their work is tainted by activism and their mission hijacked by hypocrisy.

We also recognize the potential damage that BDS can cause, especially on college campuses, and have mobilized against it. We support global knowledge sharing by medical and scientific communities – boycotts will only deepen divides and weaken professions.

Earlier this year, DARA leaders met with Ontario parliamentarian Gila Martow, who introduced an anti-BDS motion in the province’s legislature. Martow successfully steered the motion as it eventually was passed, and we discussed possible areas of future collaboration. We will continue to develop relationships with groups who think, as we do, that targeting Israel hurts all of us.

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Board of Directors, DARA

Standing Up for Israel in the Health Sciences: A Matter of Integrity

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