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by Barbara Barron


The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy climbs on the bandwagon and bashes Israel

I suppose that the British Medical Journal (BMJ) began the fashion of lending "respectability" to anti-Israel rhetoric under the specious guise of professional concern. We see it typified here by the apparently immovable and indefatigable Dr Derek Summerfield in a letter written in 2004 at:

Like all subsequent calls by others for anti-Israel boycotts, Dr Summerfield spares us no detail of alleged Israeli cruelty, most of it evidenced from distinctly biased sources such as B'Tselem and Human Rights Watch. Here are some typical excerpts.

"2 years earlier I had written to the Israeli Medical Association (IMA) after a human rights conference in Gaza, when an Israeli physician had told me that a medical colleague had confessed to her that he had removed the intravenous drip from the arm of a seriously ill Palestinian prisoner, and told the man that if he wanted to live, he should co-operate with his interrogators. I asked the IMA to investigate but they never replied, even after reminders."

"Ambulance drivers on duty are interrogated, searched, threatened, humiliated and assaulted. Wounded men have been taken from ambulances at checkpoints and sent directly to prison, and on other occasions Israeli soldiers have commandeered ambulances as transport." [It is certainly true that ambulances were stopped at checkpoints after it was discovered ambulances were transporting terrorists and explosives.]

"A study by Johns Hopkins and Al Quds Universities found that 20% of Palestinian children under 5 years old were anaemic and 22% malnourished. ['The State of Nutrition: West Bank and Gaza Strip' report states, 'The reasons for this are likely to be multi-causal and contributory factors may include poverty and the pattern of childbirth.'] The IDF has also wilfully destroyed water supplies, electric power and other elements of the public health infrastructure. [The Arabs shot up the power grid. Israeli workers were reluctant to come fix the grid because the Arabs shot at them.] The continued building of the apartheid wall and fence has hugely damaged the coherence of the Palestinian health system."

"On many occasions ambulances of the Palestinian Red Crescent society have been hit by IDF gunfire. On the 1st April 2004 the IDF fired missiles at Bethlehem psychiatric hospital, which had 250 patients and 75 staff present at the time. There was extensive damage and staff were arrested. [The IDF raided the Dehaisheh refugee camp and arrested a number of terrorists, including Palestinian security personnel who were planning to carry out attacks against Israeli civilians.] "

"the Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk states that samples taken from blast sites suggest that uranium-based bombs may have been used as well. Hospitals were hit and UK newspapers carried photographs of a wrecked ambulance, with the point of entry of the missile at the very centre of the large red cross painted on the roof." [This last point can be verified. During the 2006 Lebanon conflict, the Palestinians claimed that (rust-edged) holes in the roof of an ambulance were the result of an Israeli attack. The hoax, in which Arab Red Cross workers participated, was reported widely on the Internet.]

One has to wonder about the sense of professionalism of the learned journal of an august body which allows such hatred into print without apparent independent investigation.

Summerfield's original letter met with considerable criticism and initiated much debate. The movers and shakers of the BMJ in favour of the boycott of the Israeli Medical Association did not respond in particularly adult fashion to the welter of emails and letters of complaint, and more recently a debate about the debate was initiated. On 25th February 2009, author Karl Sabbagh published an analysis in which he argued that many emails of complaint were, yes, you guessed it, orchestrated by "the largest Israel media advocacy group in the world" and that there was little evidence that those sending the emails had actually read Summerfield's letter.

Sabbagh concluded, "Such campaigns cannot be allowed to succeed — not so much because they are wrong about the issues, but because their ultimate aim is censorship and suppression by means of intimidation."

The reaction of Sabbagh and the BMJ to criticism of their antics is not surprising. I wonder whether they realise, however, that they themselves are tarred with the same brush as they tar their critics. By trying to undermine the credibility of those who criticise them — using the predictable accusation of an orchestrated Zionist plot — they too are engaging in censorship and suppression of the views of people who disagree with them.

AS I have said above, the BMJ began the Israel-bashing by the professions. After some time the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) has also nailed its colours to that mast, but with subtle differences. "Palestine: to exist is to resist: Notes on the psychological impact of military occupation in Palestine" by Martin Kemp and Eliano Pinto was published in Therapy Today, the monthly journal of BACP.

The tone is sorrowful rather than indignant. The authors praise the support given them by Jews such as Jeff Halper, rather than lumping all Jews in the Zionist entity. They state that Arabs are 30% of Jerusalem's population but receive only 8% of the services. They don't mention that many of these Arabs have built illegally on public land and many others are squatters, living tax-free and rent-free in houses Jews were forced to abandon when Jordan conquered the eastern part of Jerusalem in 1948.

The authors write of one of the Israeli Arab families which "are denied the right to build houses on their own land, eventually forcing them to build illegally and face the threat of demolition. It was impossible to fully comprehend the experience he [the father of the family] described. Arabiya [the mother of the family] became mute and went to Jordan to recover. One daughter went temporarily blind, and another suffers panic attacks at any sudden noise, and can't find any solace in her father's attempts to reassure her." It isn't clear whether the authors attribute the mutism and blindness to building without a permit or fear of demolition. Altogether, the article doesn't get high marks for an article in a professional journal.

It was initially published online without the disclaimer, which was placed there after complaints from its membership, a number of which follow the article. Although the BACP recognised that it should be seen to be impartial, by publishing the article at first without the disclaimer, it showed itself to be at least insensitive and therefore justly open to censure. It also placed those of its membership for whom this could develop into a resignation issue in a considerable bind: since if they resigned in protest they would lose their accreditation.

I AM a psychologist with a keen interest in the politics of Israel and the Middle East. I publish under a pseudonym because I want to keep my work and my politics entirely separate. My clients and patients are vulnerable and often very troubled. They have no idea of my politics because I believe that my political beliefs and activities have absolutely no place in the therapeutic milieu. Knowledge of my politics would probably exacerbate the power imbalance which obtains in the therapeutic relationship, and my primary concern is to lessen that as much as possible.

I therefore need to be very boundaried and to be able to "bracket off" what I might hear from my clients and patients which does not chime with my own political beliefs. I know that I can do this without deleterious effects on the therapeutic alliance and I am in regular clinical supervision in which the therapeutic relationship is constantly in focus.

However, I am not so certain that equal self-awareness obtains routinely in the medical profession given the antics of the BMJ, and I now have serious doubts also about the BACP's professional integrity.

IN THE 1960s the feminist movement declared that "the personal is the political" and this became a catchphrase for direct action to right all sorts of wrongs. It continues to be acceptable in many fora, but is often misunderstood. I disagree that it can be mapped directly onto the caring professions:

For me, the nub of the problem in regard to the BMJ and the BACP lies in the difference between what I perceive to be micro- and macro-politics in the therapeutic milieu, and, in the case of the BACP, the possible impact on the therapeutic relationship when a therapist makes his/her political stance public. Mental health professionals, whatever their persuasion, are enjoined always to be aware of their own power in relation to the emotionally vulnerable who come to them for help.

If they use their professional standing or contacts to communicate potentially inflammatory ideas and/or blatant untruths which have no immediate bearing on the welfare of individual patients or clients with whom they are in contact, and the macro-political nature of which is evident, the professionals are arguably behaving dishonestly or even unethically by abusing the links to organisations which their professional standing gives them.

However, when a mental health professional intervenes to enable a patient or client to change his/her life for the better, I would argue that this professional is acting micro-politically and, as such contravenes no ethical standards.

The deliberate use of a professional body's publication to promulgate personal political views, especially when many of these are based upon lies and misconceptions, is unethical as well as immoral. Any professional body which actively encourages this by publishing it is in gross dereliction of its duty.

"Update 27th April 2009:

The on-line version of "To Resist is to Exist" was removed from the web after a flurry of emails of complaint and in spite of some in support. This does not detract, however, from the fact that the article is still circulating in printed form — see, for example,, which introduces the article thus:

Therapy Today, the monthly journal of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) had a 4 page piece in its March edition together with a front page picture, "Palestine: to exist is to resist" which gave quite a detailed account of the psychological trauma inflicted on Palestinian people, particularly children.

Under pressure from supporters of the Zionist state of Israel the editor, Sarah Browne pulled the article from their web page yesterday. Seemingly this pressure was a phone call telling them "that they'd find out they'd been very unwise to publish such a one-sided piece etc" and a couple of emails.

I am told that BACP plans to commission an article in its next edition to put the other point of view.

Barbara Barron is the pseudonym of an English psychologist. The article was submitted April 6, 2009.


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