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Should we consider a boycott of Israeli academic institutions? No

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: (Published 19 July 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:125

Torture and the Israeli Medical Association: request for correction

In a paper in the BMJ in 2007 Professor Michael Baum wrote that it
was a “lie” to suggest that the Israeli Medical Association (IMA) was
complicit in the ill-treatment of prisoners. (1) He cited a rebuttal by
IMA President Yoram Blachar of an open letter of mine, both in the BMJ.
(2) (3) The “lie”, then, was mine.

This issue was one of the subjects of a meeting in Tel Aviv on 10
December 2008 between Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) and the
IMA. The IMA was represented by, among others, Yoram Blachar, just
inaugurated as President of the World Medical Association (WMA), the
official body overseeing medical ethics worldwide. The WMA’s Declaration
of Tokyo (1975) prohibits doctors from condoning or participating in the
practice of torture, and mandates them to speak out when they encounter

PHRI demanded a response by the IMA to the 2007 “Ticking Bombs”
report of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, which PHRI had
sent to the IMA in advance of the meeting. (4) Based on detailed
testimonies, this report confirms what Amnesty International reported as
far back as 1996, that Israeli doctors form an integral part of the
running of interrogations units whose everyday practice is torture.(5) A
copy of Yoram Blachar’s letter in the Lancet, in which he defended the use
of “moderate physical pressure” (a practice which the UN Committee Against
Torture had condemned as torture), was also made available to the meeting.

Professor Baum was also present on December 10 and was referred to
the evidence, which PHRI had in any event sent to him personally prior to
the meeting. He should also now be aware of the 2008 Annual Report of the
United Against Torture Coalition, a coalition of 14 Israeli and
Palestinian human rights organisations, a publication to which PHRI
contributed. The Coalition addressed the UN Committee Against Torture
thus: “Since the Committee last reviewed Israel, the practice of torture
and ill-treatment has continued unabated (and) is both widespread and
systematic. The UAT Coalition has recorded evidence of acts, omissions and
complicity by agents of the State at all levels. Until this culture of
impunity is addressed this situation is unlikely to improve”.(7)

It is normal practice that if a significant error in a paper in an
academic journal is identified subsequently, a correction is published.
Few subjects could be more relevant to the moral standing of the medical
profession (8) and there is also the imputation that I have lied in the
BMJ. What I had to say in 2003 was not a lie then and it is not a lie now.
In 2003 there had been convincing evidence from reputable and reliable
sources, widely available for some years, of which the IMA must therefore
have been aware, that Israeli doctors had been involved in the ill-
treatment of prisoners and yet such conduct had apparently continued
unabated, without intervention by the IMA. For this reason alone what I
had to say in 2003 was not a lie. Moreover, at the meeting on 10 December
2008, more recent, compelling evidence of Israeli doctors’ continuing
involvement in torture was presented specifically to Professor Baum. Thus
I ask Professor Baum whether in the light of the evidence of which he is
now aware he needs to publish a correction.

1 Baum M. Should we consider a boycott of Israeli academic
institutions? No. BMJ 2007;335:125.

2 Blachar Y. Medical ethics, the Israeli Medical
Association, and the state of the World Medical Association: IMA
president’s response to open letter to the BMA. BMJ 2003:327:1107.

3 Summerfield D. Medical ethics, the Israeli Medical
Association, and the state of the World Medical Association. Open letter
to the BMA. BMJ 2003;327:561.

4 Public Committee Against Torture in Israel. “Ticking
Bombs”: testimonies of torture victims in Israel. Jerusalem: Public
Committee Against Torture In Israel. 2007.[1].pdf

5 Amnesty International. "Under constant medical
supervision". Torture, ill-treatment and the health professions in Israel
and the Occupied Territories. Amnesty International 1996. MDE 15/37/96.

6 Blachar Y. The truth about Israeli medical ethics. Lancet

7 Defence for Children International: Palestine Section. UAT
Report: Torture and Ill-treatment in Israel and the OPT.

8 Miles S. Doctors’ complicity with torture. It is time for
sanctions. BMJ 2008;337:a1088.

Competing interests:
I have had academic involvement with health and human rights-related issues, including medical ethics,in Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories since 1992

Competing interests: No competing interests

21 January 2009
derek a summerfield
Hon Sen Lect, Institute of Psychiatry, London
Maudsley Hospital, SE5 8BB