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Stop the Crackdown on Pro-Palestinian Healthcare Voices

Institutions around the world are cracking down on pro-Palestinian healthcare voices as part of an effort to further enable Israel’s ongoing genocidal campaign.

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Chris Serres/Boston Globe

As Israel continues its ongoing genocidal onslaught on Gaza, over 8,500 have been killed and countless injured. Israel just bombed Gaza’s largest refugee camp multiple times, killing hundreds. According to UNICEF, Israel’s assault is killing or injuring at least 400 children every day. The state continues to cut off Gaza’s ability to communicate with the outside world as it ramps up its bombing campaign, targeting healthcare facilities and healthcare workers in its campaign. After bombing Al-Ahli hospital (and then lying about the bombing), Israel directed those at Al Quds hospital to evacuate,then began bombing the area around the hospital — 100 medical workers, 500 patients, and 14,000 refugees were inside. Israel is now signaling that it will attack Gaza’s largest hospital, Shifa Hospital, which is sheltering over 50,000 and treating countless patients. They also recently bombed the Turkish-Palestinian friendship hospital, which serves as the only hospital for cancer patients. 

Gazas healthcare system has already completely collapsed. Healthcare workers have been working in facilities that have run out of fuel and are forced to try to treat patients without the most basic necessities of clean water or electricity. They have had to stop resuscitating patients, knowing they have no ventilators to offer them, yet Israel continues its genocidal campaign with no end in sight. The same state bombing hospitals (along with schools and churches) claims it is not at fault because it “provides warning” and recommends patients and healthcare workers leave healthcare facilities — as if those connected to life-saving equipment are able to flee the next US-funded Israeli missile. In this dire situation, many healthcare workers have chosen to stay behind, refusing to abandon their patients. 

In light of this ongoing genocide and the immediate situation in healthcare sectors, Palestinian trade unionists and allies recently put out a call for medical workers internationally to speak up for their colleagues in Palesintine. Healthcare workers around the world are beginning to take action, but in an ongoing effort to protect and enable Israel’s crimes, institutions are not only creating a culture of fear around expressing solidarity with Palestine, but openly targeting and attacking those who do so. This comes as pro-Palestinian voices in various other sectors are also targeted. Institutions that claim to care about health and well-being once again show their true colors as they fight not to protect health, but to enable genocide.

Healthcare Workers and Organizers Being Fired

Since Israel’s bombing campaign on Gaza began, a number of healthcare workers have already been fired for voicing views supporting Palestine. For example, an emergency room physician at Lenox Hill Hospital, Dana Diab, was fired after being accused of celebrating Hamas’ attack, though as Diab notes, she “never called for harm to anyone” and stated, “I never have, and never will, abdicate my duty and my oath as a physician.”

New York University (NYU) Langone Health recently fired Dr. Zaki Masoud as he re-shared a post on his personal Instagram in support of Palestinian resistance. The post, which can be seen here, calls for people to not “hesitate to openly state your support of Palestinian resistance.” NYU was quick to note its concern over the issue, tweeting that Dr. Masoud “has been removed from service” and “a process leading to termination has commenced.”

Examples aren’t just limited to the US. In Canada, Dr. Ben Thompson was targeted after dispelling lies of the Israeli state on his personal Twitter. He was suspended from his clinical practice at Mackenzie Health, and experienced threats against his and his family’s safety. Fortunately, he was reinstated after a broad advocacy campaign from his patients and community.

The examples go beyond just frontline healthcare workers and include those connected to the industry more generally. Healthcare union organizers, such as Tania Singh, a former nurse organizer in Minnesota, have been fired for their views expressed on personal social media accounts. Even the Editor and Chief of eLife, an open access journal for research in the life and biomedical sciences, was replaced in his position after retweeting an Onion piece calling out the indifference to the killing of Palestinians. 

Creating a Culture of Fear 

Beyond firing healthcare workers for their views, hospitals, clinics, and residency training programs are working to develop a culture of fear among their workers to police pro-Palestinian views and discourage any criticism of the state of Israel. An Obstetric specialist in Chicago recently reported that residents at a program in the city were warned last week that they could be fired from their programs at any time, for any reason. The program conveniently issued this “warning” as public criticisms of Israel’s bombing campaign were on the rise. 

At NYU Langone — one of the many New York city based institutions who failed to even mention Gaza or Palestine in its initial emails to its community — a nursing student (who wishes to remain anonymous) reported to Left Voice that they were called into a meeting with the Office of Employee and Labor Relations to be questioned regarding their social media posts in support of Palestine. Upon further investigation, it was found that individuals were collecting screenshots from social media and sharing with the NYU administration. This dynamic has been reported as “pervasive” throughout various sectors of the institution, with pro-Palestinian residents and attending physicians also experiencing similar dynamics.

NYU Langone actually sent out an email to all staff titled “Hateful Speech is Not Tolerated” reinforcing that they “will not tolerate any statements condoning racism, discrimination, or violence of any kind.” While we can agree that hate speech should be condemned, a note like this is disingenuous coming from an institution with a history of retaliating against its staff. This is all the more concerning as NYU went on to ask anyone concerned about “violation of our policies” to report to a “Compliance Helpline.” At the very least, a call line like this serves as a method of intimidation to create a culture of fear for those who dare to speak out in support of Palestine.

At Montefiore Hospital, resident physicians have also reported being called into disciplinary meetings around their social media posts in support of Palestine. The culture of fear extends beyond statements or social media posts — even your attire can make you a target. At New York-Presbyterian / Columbia University, a resident physician reported to Left Voice that they were “given a warning” for wearing a shirt that simply said “Palestine.” 

Examples of institutions cracking down on pro-Palestinian healthcare voices did not begin with the most recent escalation of Israel’s 75-year colonization campaign. In 2017, at Albert Einstein College of Medicine (AECOM) in the Bronx — the alma mater of the infamous Zionist Baruch Goldstein and medical school associated with Montefiore — white Zionist students with strong family connections to the institution identified a politically active, Desi pro-Palestine student, infiltrated her private Instagram account, and reported a pro-Palestine post to their deans, claiming it was “threatening” and “antisemitic.” The campus synagogues sent screenshots of this private Instagram post to the entire synagogue community, claiming they were under threat of terrorism, and that they had increased their security. The student not only faced harassment from classmates, but was also forced to attend several months of disciplinary meetings, where she was told that she was a terrorist and antisemite, and was forced to issue a public apology to the entire student body. This culminated in a 4-hour-long disciplinary hearing where the student was ordered to engage in “professionalism” education, and have “unprofessional behavior” indicated in her future residency applications, in order to avoid expulsion from the medical school. The student was subjected to numerous poor clinician evaluations throughout the rest of her medical school training prior to graduation.

Fear to Keep People in Line

Clearly, the crackdowns on pro-Palestinian voices extend beyond healthcare workers. As The Guardian notes, “conferences have been abruptly canceled, media appearances suppressed, and demands made to fire critics of Israeli policies.” As hundreds of thousands mobilize around the globe, in Berlin the government has even banned all expression of solidarity with the Palestinian people. This fear campaign is quite reminiscent of similar attacks that were waged against those who dared stand against the war in Iraq post-9/11. Is this silencing campaign just part of a generalized culture of fear, or could there be another aspect?

The crackdown on pro-Palestinian healthcare voices is part of the current campaign to stir more public support for Israel. US imperialism benefits from its control of a colonial power in the Middle East, which means any threat to Israel is a threat to US imperialism. Ruling class institutions, such as hospitals and health education programs, help to build and maintain support for Israel and materially maintain this dynamic. For example, NYU has multiple projects with the Israeli state ranging from undergraduate institutions to hospitals and medical centers. They also have an over-9 million dollar investment in Israel’s Technion Institute for Cancer Research. In this light, the institution’s response to voices critical of the Israeli state is no surprise.

In addition, healthcare workers are a particular work sector that has a large amount of public trust. Nurses, physicians, and other healthcare workers are some of the most trusted professions there are. Healthcare workers put their lives on the line during the pandemic, which has only deepened the trust large sectors of the working class has for them. This trust makes it all the more crucial for a ruling class institution like medicine to work to keep healthcare workers in line at this time. 

Institutions don’t outright say an individual is being too political, but do things more subtly. For example, concerns around “professionalism” are often weaponized by institutions to target healthcare workers when their views threaten ruling class ideologies. Institutions claim that monitoring “professionalism” is somehow related to patient care, but in reality, the concept is used to monitor speech and thought. I’ve noted in the past that educational programs serve to condition future physicians, making them more efficient tools for capitalist medicine.e are seeing this conditioning play out in real time with the disciplining of pro-Palestinian healthcare workers. 

There is an effort by healthcare institutions to make sure both current and future workers (i.e., those in various training programs) keep their heads down and focus on keeping their short-staffed hospitals and clinics running, but not take political stances—or more accurately, not take political stances that challenge systems of power. The theme extends from training programs to hospitals and clinics. Teaching programs will celebrate having “social justice curricula” or a union on advertising paperwork, but when medical students, nursing students, and resident physicians want to use their voices and their feet to stand on the side of justice, hospitals feel they are going too far. Hospitals will perhaps have a website headline claiming “Black Lives Matter” if the slogan is popular enough to allow them to present themselves as progressive, while also benefiting their bottom line, but they do not dare reorganize dynamics that funnel Black and brown bodies in and out of their institutions like packages on an assembly line.

Now, as we witness the ongoing US-sponsored genocide in Palestine, the same organizations that were handing out cookies and water bottles to their “healthcare heroes” during the pandemic are cracking down when those “heroes” stand against a genocide. But healthcare workers can weaponize the deepended trust they’ve gained to help the movement. Institutions are cracking down on them precisely because they fear healthcare workers becoming more involved in the movement for a free Palestine. Healthcare workers can not only organize in their workplaces, but join the movement to surround activists and others condemned in the public eye for standing with Palestine. As Palestinian workers have been demanding, the time critical for pro-Palestinian healthcare voices to fight back against the policing of their institutions and continue to organize, speak out, and stand in solidarity with Palestine.

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Mike Pappas

Mike is an activist and medical doctor working in New York City.

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