December 11, 2018, Webinar with Dr. Derek Summerfield
Doctors and State Torture. “The Case of Israel”- a webinar discussion
The Health Advisory Council of Jewish Voice for Peace USA invited me to lead a 1 hour webinar discussion on the above subject on December 11, chaired by Dr Alice Rothchild, steering committee member of JVP HAC. The link is below. The first 30 minutes has a nutshell summary of the case against Israeli doctors serving in interrogation units, the Israeli Medical Association, and against the World Medical Association- the WMA was created after WW2 to serve as the world’s official watchdog on medical ethics. The WMA’s Declaration of Tokyo is the seminal anti-torture code defining the role of doctors, mandating not only that doctors should not participate, but also
that they must protect the detainee, speak out and protest whenever they encounter it.
As long ago as 1996 Amnesty International concluded that Israeli doctors serving in security units were in institutionalised complicity with torture during interrogation. Torture was part of the Israeli State’s policies and practices (for many years the euphemism “moderate physical pressure” was used). Over these 20 + years we have assembled a mountain of incriminating documentation – from Human Rights Watch, the United Against Torture coalition of Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, Physicians for Human Rights Israel/Public Committee Against Torture in Israel- who published closely documented case studies in 2007 (“Ticking Bombs”) and in 2011 (“Doctoring the Evidence, Abandoning the Victim”). These demonstrated without any possible doubt how Israeli doctors are part and parcel of the handling of Palestinian detainees in units where torture is routine, and how these practices had been consistently shielded over many years by the Israeli Medical Association. Some of the doctors were even named. Amnesty International’s current summary of the situation concludes: “Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees, including children, remains pervasive.”
Our formal campaign, associated with BRICUP, (British Committee for the Universities of Palestine), launched in May 2009, and was an evidence-based submission to the WMA at a point when longstanding apologist for State torture the IMA President Yoram Blachar had become the WMA President, making a mockery of the idea that the WMA would act effectively and evenhandedly as mandated to do. I put together evidence from 725 doctors from 43 countries for this purpose, with Dr Alan Meyers of JVP as lead signatory. We were given public support by Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein. Our precedent was the expulsion of the Medical Association of South Africa from the WMA in the 1990s for precisely the same charge, collusion with State torture.
In the webinar I describe what has happened since then, a sorry and morally corrupt tale that includes a libel suit started against me personally by the IMA President whilst still WMA President. I conclude with the depressing conclusion that no effective and unpartisan supervision of the ethical behaviour of doctors as regards torture exists in the world. Those with powerful friends continue to enjoy impunity.
The other conclusion our experience in this campaign has brought us to recalls the work of the German social theorist Weber. He distinguished 2 kinds of ethics: the ethics of responsibility (conventional professionalism), and the ethics of conviction (relating to prior values, identity etc). We have found that for doctors, and in relation to Israel, the ethics of conviction seems almost always to trump the ethics of responsibility. I am sure that many if not most of the doctors, in Israel and internationally, who have attacked our campaign and the editors of the Lancet and British Medical Journal who have published us, would react differently if the country in question was Sudan, or China or Iraq, for example. But, where Israel is concerned, a different set of ethics is applied.
I thank Dr Rothchild and the JVP Health Advisory Council for setting the webinar up, and for their continuing excellent work chiselling away at these issues.
You can find the video recording here.