More than 700 doctors from around the world have called for the Israeli president of the World Medical Association to step down, calling him “unfit for office” and claiming that he has turned a blind eye to the “institutionalised involvement of doctors” in torture in Israel, according to a news report in the latest British Medical Journal (the abstract is freely available here but you have to pay to see the whole report if not a subscriber).
The doctors say that the appointment of Yoram Blachar, president of the Israeli Medical Association since 1995, as president of the World Medical Association last November is “a matter of grave concern”.
They say it “makes a mockery of the principles on which the WMA was founded in 1947, which was a response to egregious abuses by Germany and Japan in World War Two.”
In a letter, the doctors list numerous reports highlighting the use of torture by doctors in Israel and occasions when the Israeli Medical Association has failed to respond to the charges.
In 1996 a report from Amnesty International concluded that Israeli doctors working with security services “formed part of a system in which detainees are tortured, ill treated, and humiliated in ways that place prison medical practice in conflict with medical ethics.”
At the time Dr Blachar “took no action,” says the letter. It adds that Dr Blachar had justified, in a letter to the Lancet in 1997, the use in Israel of “moderate physical pressure”.
However, a World Medical Association spokesman said that this statement was not Dr Blachar’s opinion but a reference to Israeli guidelines and that it has been widely misquoted. The spokesman said: “Dr Blachar did not then endorse the use of torture and has not done so since. Indeed he has repeatedly supported WMA policy statements and documents that condemn all use of torture, whether by physicians or others.”
The British Medical Association said: “On the basis of imperfect and contested information, although Dr Blachar’s position as joint president of the World Medical Association and the Israeli Medical Association is a difficult one, in our view he has made authoritative statements, as president of both organisations, calling on the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and any doctors operating under the IDF’s remit to respect international ethical standards.”
Dr Blachar did not respond to a BMJ request for comment. In previous correspondence in the BMJ, he has several times denounced the use of torture by Israeli doctors.