December 3, 2023

Why not criticise Israeli doctors, asks WMA critic

Feud between Blachar and Summerfield

The World Medical Association recently called on Iran to respect the International Code of Medical Ethics after hearing reports of doctors colluding in the maltreatment of people arrested after this year’s disputed election. This has infuriated psychiatrist Derek A Summerfield. In a stinging letter to the BMJ, he asks why the WMA refused to censure Israeli doctors for doing much the same thing to Palestinian prisoners.

The issue is particularly sensitive for the WMA because its head is the longstanding president of the Israeli Medical Association, Yoram Blachar. Despite “a voluminous evidence base”, complained Dr Summerfield, the only response to a letter from 725 doctors from 43 countries was a threat of a defamation suit by Dr Blachar.

“To speak out about Iran is laudable, but it is easy,” writes Dr Summerfield in a letter to the BMJ. “Our case is surely the litmus test of whether internationally agreed medical ethical codes matter, and can hold transgressors to account when they have powerful friends.”

This has become a public and highly personal dispute. Earlier this year, Dr Blachar told the Jewish Chronicle, “It seems Dr Summerfield, who is behind this initiative, is simply obsessed with the task of hurting the IMA and hurting me… I did attempt to meet Dr Summerfield some years ago but he refused to meet me. We are faced with an obsessional person. He is a psychologist — so he should know.” ~ BMJ, Nov 10

Michael Cook