GENEVA (May. 12)
The World Health Organization’s annual World Health Assembly got off to a sour start for Israel last week.
Hostility toward the Jewish state is a familiar aspect of the U.N.-sponsored conclave. It was manifest this year, as it has been in the past, by a highly critical report on Israel’s health practices in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
It was further demonstrated at the opening session when Health Minister Ahmad Ben Saeed al-Badi of the United Arab Emirates, having just been elected president of the Assembly, refused to acknowledge his Israeli counterpart from the podium.
Notwithstanding that his country is participating in the multilateral talks with Israel as part of the Middle East peace process, when Israeli Health Minister Ehud Olmert rose to speak, al-Badi ostentatiously left the chair.
The Israeli minister alluded to the snub, saying that had al-Badi remained, he could have brought back to his country a message of peace from Israel.
“His absence is a political gesture,” Olmert said.
He was much more critical of Dr. Hiroshi Nakajima, director general of the WHO, whom he accused of outright anti-Israel bias.
Last year’s director general’s report criticized health care in the Israeli administered health care in the Israeli administered territories. When Olmert complained it was a political issue which should not have been included in the report, the director general conceded it was a mistake made without his knowledge.
THIS TIME IT’S NO MISTAKE
But this year’s report levelled the same criticism of Israel. “It was no mistake,” said Olmert, who did not meet with Nakajima or congratulate him on his speech to the Health Assembly, as protocol required.
Asked by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency why the report included criticism of Israel, Nakajima replied that “Israel refuses to have the United Nations play a role in the Middle East peace talks while the Arabs are all for it.”
In his report, Nakajima said “It is the role of the international community in its contribution to the peace process, to assist the Palestinian people in their efforts to enjoy this basic human right and the privilege of being responsible for their own health services.
“It is beyond doubt,” he said, “that the attainment of a level of health by the people of the occupied territories that would permit them to lead a socially and economically productive life is one of the basic tenets for a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian question.”
In his opening address, Olmert commended the selection of “women’s health issues and development” as the subject of this year’s technical discussion. In Israel, women have always worked alongside men in all fields of national development, he said.
Referring to the recent immigrants to his country from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, Olmert said that “special health-promotion activities were initiated for the various new populations in such fields as proper dietary behavior (and) communicable disease prevention.”