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Dr. Yoram Blachar.
News and Opinion

Worldwide Support for Dr. Yoram Blachar

-- Ellen Witman

Less than two years after his election as president of the World Medical Association (WMA), Dr. Yoram Blachar, a pediatric nephrologist and president of the Israel Medical Association (IMA), is at the center of a controversy that could threaten his WMA position.

At the heart of the controversy is the question of what role Israeli physicians might have played in specific cases of torture of Palestinian prisoners and whether the IMA, under the leadership of Dr. Blachar, took sufficient measures to investigate the allegations and punish perpetrators of any ethics violations. The physician is not accused of personally participating in torture or even being present when torture was performed, but rather of presiding over the Israel Medical Association’s investigation which, according to the protesters, overlooked or minimized serious allegations and reports of unethical conduct by Israeli physicians.

Groups in opposition to and support of Dr. Blachar have reached out to colleagues around the world asking them to sign onto letters or petitions expressing their points of view. A letter signed by 725 physicians called for the removal of Dr. Blachar. A second, more recent letter to the WMA officers states that it contains “some documentary evidence regarding Dr Blachar and the Israel Medical Association” and again calls for his removal.

Supporters of Dr. Blachar have not been silent in the face of these accusations. The Chairman of the IMA World Fellowship, Dr. Tzaki Siev-Ner, wrote to colleagues that the leader of the opposition efforts, Dr. Derek Summerfield, “has a life-long agenda of criticizing Israel; he is well known to us through his inexorable venomous campaign against Israel, the IMA and Dr. Blachar,” He asked colleagues throughout the world to sign a petition in support of the WMA president. More than 5,000 physicians and non-physicians have responded so far. You can read their names, countries and comments by clicking on the link above. Editorials and op-ed pieces have appeared in numerous newspapers including the Forward (reprinted by permission below).

If you wish to express your support for the Israel Medical Association and Dr. Yoram Blachar, you can do so by signing the petition.

Campaign against appointment of Dr. Yoram Blachar as President of the World Medical Association

Anti-Israel activity and campaigns in the medical press are unfortunately nothing new; however they have reached a new "low" in the last few months. The most recent manifestation of the anti-Israel phenomenon infecting the medical world is a letter spearheaded by Dr. Derek Summerfield and signed by 725 physicians, "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." Derek Summerfield has a life-long agenda of criticizing Israel; he is well known to us through his inexorable venomous campaign against Israel, the IMA and Dr. Blachar, in numerous letters and on the pages of leading British medical journals such as the BMJ and the Lancet.

The "facts" brought in the letter are nothing new. The organizations cited, including Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights and the United Against Torture Coalition do outstanding work; however, until recently, 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. Professor Avinoam Reches, Chair of the IMA's Ethics Committee, personally spoke with each and every physician cited in the report that he was able to locate (details were incompletely or inconsistently listed in the report and so it was not possible to reach them all) . Most were never employed by, nor had any connection to, the Israeli Prison Services. Of the three who were employed there, all vigorously denied any involvement in interrogations, torture or medical approval for the above.

The letter further states that Dr. Blachar has made statements which were untrue on at least 10 occasions in the Lancet and the BMJ. No basis is made for these claims other than the opinion of the authors. The signatories then blame Dr. Blachar for his rejection of the documentary record in an age of evidence-based medicine, which would be amusing were it not so chilling. Finally, Summerfield goes so far as to accuse the IMA ethics chairman, Prof. Avinoam Reches, of being personally involved in torture.

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. We view the current situation as extremely dangerous for the future of Israeli medicine, of academic freedom and international cooperation.

In previous campaigns against the IMA and Dr. Blachar you have stood by our side and mobilized in support of Israeli medicine. These are not easy times for Israel and our image in the world is problematic. We hope that you agree that Dr. Blachar, the IMA and Israeli medicine cannot and should not be the victim of the current political atmosphere.

We hope you will join our letter of support for Dr. Blachar, for the IMA and for Israeli medicine. Please sign your name and country and in the 'Notes' section please include your title, field of medicine (or other) and place of employment. Please send this letter on to others who you feel might be similarly interested in expressing support.

-- Dr. Tzaki Siev-Ner, Chairman, IMA World Fellowship

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