Israeli doctors at the Schneider Children’s Hospital in Petach Tikvah recently provided medical treatment to the infant granddaughter of Hamas’s Gaza Prime Minister – at a time when senior Hamas officials threatened rocket attacks on Tel Aviv. This follows countless instances of Israeli army and civilian doctors treating victims and combatants from the conflict in Syria, a country with which Israel is still at war.
In contrast, there is a very disturbing trend among non-government organisations (NGOs) to politicise medicine and abuse medical claims as part of a campaign of political warfare targeting Israel. A new report by Jerusalem-based research organisation NGO Monitor, NGO Malpractice, examines the abuse of medicine, morality and science by political advocacy NGOs.
NGOs that proclaim a mandate related to medical and health issues are shielded from scrutiny because they claim to promote universal humanitarian principles. As groups with a medical focus, they benefit from an added degree of credibility, reflecting a perception of altruism and scientific expertise. For instance, the mission statement of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I) clearly states its political agenda– “we oppose the occupation and endeavour to put an end to it.” To this effect, PHR-I has stated that it “will only work with doctors who resist the occupation.” In fact, their political objectives extend much further, in the context of the demonisation of Israel itself.
As highlighted by the contrast between Israeli humanitarianism, on the one hand, and NGO exploitation of medical claims, on the other, there is an urgent need to restore the moral framework in discussion of these issues. Instead of promoting medical assistance on the basis of universality and political neutrality, medical NGOs and their representatives have become central players in the political conflict.
Exploiting medicine and science for a political purpose undermines the integrity of what should be highly valued, noble professions, and respectable institutions.