Gregg Carr's fortune spawned by his genius and pioneering work in computer voice mail and early ISP's(remember Prodigy anyone?) has gone a long way in funding Harvard"s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. Sadly, most organizations today within the NGO universe bearing the label, "Human Rights" or "Peace", push, among other worthy agenda items, a not so worthy one: Denigrating one country, Israel, to the point of de-legitimization. And Harvard is no exception. This week was a case in point.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) (oops, there's that label - head for the exits) is a Cambridge based group of physicians and activists whose mission is to "to investigate the health consequences of human rights violations and work to stop them." And investigate they do. But not too hard when it involves Palestinian and Arab violations. When pressed to report on continual Palestinian violations of international law in the use of ambulances and health facilities as agents of war, they have consistently refused or denied such use in spite of voluminous photographic evidence. Not surprisingly, their withering gaze is disproportionately trained on the supposed endless violations allegedly committed by Israel. Following close on the heels of hosting Human Rights Watch's Senior Researcher, Nadim Houry who lectured for two hours on Israel's human rights violations during the 2006 Lebanon War (while, incredibly, exculpating Hezbollah for using human shields), the Carr Center proudly presented Dani Filc, director of Physicians for Human Rights in Israel and author of "Circles of Exclusion: The Politics of Health Care in Israel". Of course, we don't have to widely speculate as to the victims of Jewish exclusion: Palestinian Arabs, migrant workers, and refugees.
The Israeli health system, incidentally, is consistently rated as one of the most "Progressive" in the world, ranked ahead of Canada, Finland, Cuba and the United States: Single payer, no one is turned away from treatment, inexpensive and comprehensive. Even according to Dr. Filc, it is an outstanding system (and it is located in one of the more backward areas of the world). But then, Dr. Filc is not merely a physician. He is also a lecturer in the Department of Politics and Governance at Ben Gurion University in the Negev. Those are the wonderful folks who gave us Jeff Halper (of the International Committee Against House Demolitions) and the voluble Professor Neve Gordon, who champions international boycotts and divestment from Israel. Dr. Filc's latest offering is "The Political Right in Israel: Different Faces of Jewish Populism." It would seem that Dr. Filc's medical specialty is more political than clinical.
His bill of particulars against Israel's health system is part general criticism on the basis of its growing reliance on private insurers and part anecdotal. Of course, as a result of the global financial meltdown, every country has been forced to scale back state-financed health services, even exemplars like France and Sweden. This minor point escaped Dr. Filc.
During the Q&A Dr. Filc was reminded that life expectancy increased and infant mortality improved notably during the period since 1995 when he claimed Israel and its people had suffered a deterioration in health care due to increased privatization a clear contradiction of his thesis. He replied that improvement in infant mortality rates was due more to basic services such as water, sewage and electricity than to improved medical care. Of course, the obvious conclusion is that infant mortality dropped off as a result of improved basic services provided by Israel. Never mind. Another questioner reminded him that misrepresentation and denigration of Israeli health care delivery systems serve to provide fuel for those that seek Israel's destruction.
Try as they might to the contrary, PHR and Dr. Filc inadvertently painted a complimentary picture of a country devoted to excellence in health care. As to the issue of security when dealing with Palestinian patients (who are routinely treated at Israel's best health care facilities) a questioner recounted the 2004 incident involving a Gaza resident, Wafa al Biss, who was stopped from entering Israel for medical treatement (at Dr. Filc's own hospital in Be'er Sheva, ironically) when she was discovered to have 20kgs. of explosives hidden beneath her clothes. She said later that she intended to kill as many doctors and patients as possible. Dr. Filc's presentation included no references to security matters and seemed irritated by the question. Israel's health system may be the worst in the world, or as Winston Churchill quipped of democracy, "except for all the others."
In the interests of diversity, wouldn't it be refreshing for PHR to host a Palestinian physician who would present a critical evaluation of the Hamas health system (assuming there is one)? Don't hold your breath - you might need to be put on a ventilator.