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Steinberg: The WHO propaganda theatre

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The flag of the World Health Organization (WHO) (Public Domain Files)

Last month’s World Health Assembly, which was held in Geneva under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO), featured the usual reports and resolutions condemning Israel. A visitor from another planet might ask what Israel has to do with the challenges of Ebola, measles, obesity or Alzheimer’s. The answer, of course, is that there is no connection. Like witch-burnings and blood libels in earlier periods of history, Israel-bashing is a standard form of 21st century anti-Semitism.

This ritual is featured in every UN Human Rights Council session, in university BDS campaigns and in the activities of radical labour unions. In the case of the WHO, the consequences of this diversion of resources are concrete and deadly, and it is compounded by barriers to co-operation with Israeli medical professionals, who are among the best in the world.

The WHO propaganda war is led by what remains of Syria’s dictatorship – which is among the gravest human rights violators in the world – and propped up by the genocidal Iranian regime, as well as Russia, another egregious human rights abuser.

One resolution – which was co-sponsored by Cuba, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Venezuela, and had the automatic support of over 50 countries from the Islamic bloc – was titled, “Health conditions in the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan.” It once again blamed Israel for health-care deficiencies among Palestinians, while ignoring the corruption and the diversion of massive amounts of international humanitarian aid to building terror tunnels, buying rockets and paying terrorists and their families.

In a classic example of mirror-imaging (attributing to one’s enemy the type of behaviour that one’s own regime commits), their resolution referred to the “inhumane detention of Syrian prisoners in Israeli prisons, who undergo horrible torture to compel them to confess of crimes they did not commit,” and attacked Israel for treating injured Syrians (mainly civilians) in Israeli hospitals, after which “they are free to return to the Syrian territories to conduct terrorist attacks.”

Shamefully, a number of European countries that claim to be part of the morally enlightened world joined the dictatorships and Israel-haters in supporting this absurdity. Italy, Belgium, France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland were among the countries that supported the resolution. In each country, the politicians, diplomats and members of their delegations to the WHO need to be confronted and held accountable.

In contrast to this familiarly hypocritical picture, a few signs of sanity and moral backbone stand out. The delegations from Canada, Australia, the United States and Germany voted, and spoke out, against it. For the first time, the U.K. also took a strong position against singling out Israel (although its Department for International Development and Foreign Office fund a number of the NGOs that are active in lawfare and demonization campaigns.)

The head of the U.K. delegation said what should have been obvious: “If we politicize the WHO, we do so at our peril. We do the course of our global health and the health of our citizens a grave disservice.… Today, the U.K. voted against this politicization of the WHO and in the hope that in the next year, we can finally succeed in bringing it to an end.”

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Looking towards next year, a strong and concerted counter-campaign of medical professionals from around the world demanding an end to this Israel-bashing ritual, and that the wasted WHO resources be redirected toward fighting Ebola and other diseases, would send a powerful message to the leaders and staff of the WHO.

In previous successful efforts to end the use of medical institutions, such as the Lancet journal, for anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propaganda, Canadian physicians and medical researchers played a central role. A repeat performance, this time focusing on the WHO propaganda theatre, would be a very important accomplishment.