Conspiracy theories cast a shadow over the 75th World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO), as hundreds of health officials and diplomats converged on Geneva last week. One of the assembly’s key goals—to draft a new agreement that would “strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response”—opened the U.N.-affiliated world body to accusations that it was attempting to usurp national governments’ powers to make health decisions.

The conspiracy caught fire online as cultural, media and political figures, such as British comedian Russell Brand and Fox News host Tucker Carlson, claimed that amendments introduced by the Biden administration were a power grab. Former U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann told Steve Bannon on his War Room Podcast that the Biden amendments “would propose that all nations of the earth cede their sovereignty over national health-care decisions to the WHO.”

The amendments “create a platform for global governance,” Bachmann said.

In Israel, too, the amendments produced shrill criticism. Former Knesset member Moshe Feiglin wrote that the “theft” of Israel’s “national freedom” by WHO was one of the two most urgent threats facing the country, the first being Israel’s loss of control on the Temple Mount. Israel, counted as one of WHO’s 194 member states, would be required to adhere to the changes.

Preben Aavitsland, a Norwegian physician who participated in the drafting of the current international health regulations in 2005, a WHO agreement on the prevention of the spread of disease across borders, dismisses these accusations. He told JNS that “there has been a tendency, now in the United States especially, but also in other countries, to spread sort of a conspiracy around these amendments and the future pandemic treaty; that this is some kind of U.N. takeover of the international global order. This is, of course, not the case.”

“In general, these amendments are meant to improve international health security,” he said.

According to the Biden administration, the amendments, titled by the WHO “Provisional Agenda Item 16.2,” are meant to strengthen the international health regulations after WHO’s failures to combat COVID-19. (Everyone seems to agree that WHO dropped the ball on COVID-19, including an independent investigation that it commissioned.) Among the amendments: Member states are to notify WHO within 24 hours of a public health emergency of international import, and the WHO director-general will be given more latitude in determining whether an event constitutes an international health emergency.

Richard Goldberg, senior adviser at the Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), warns that off-the-wall conspiracy theories make it easy for WHO supporters to dismiss all criticisms as fringe nonsense when in fact there’s much to complain about the WHO.

Of the amendments, Goldberg said, “The idea of empowering the WHO’s leadership to make those calls sooner, and issue those warnings sooner, is not necessarily a bad thing.” The problem is giving more power to an organization desperately in need of reform, he said, describing the WHO as a corrupt and politicized organization, lacking transparency and with a director-general beholden to China.

It also boasts dictatorships like Russia and Syria on its executive board, which seek influence in the organization to block it from looking closely at their own activities, he noted. “They end up wielding these world bodies as a weapon against the West,” said Goldberg.

He also said WHO is anti-Semitic. “WHO castigates Israel on an annual basis. Israel is the only country for which there is a standing agenda item at the World Health Assembly, much like we see at the U.N. Human Rights Council,” he said.

“Is it a good idea to give money, without reforms, to this organization for any reason?” he asked.

Goldberg said that if the United States were serious about reform, it would start with three items: 1) Giving Taiwan observer status. Although its COVID-19 response was held up as a “gold standard,” China bans Taiwan from participating in the WHO; 2) Ordering an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19; 3) Ceasing all anti-Semitic activities within the WHO, “including the removal of the standing agenda item targeting Israel.”

He also expressed disappointment in the Biden administration, which didn’t object to the reappointment as director-general of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, whom Goldberg views as China’s man at the WHO. The United States also appeared to acquiesce to a change in how the WHO’s budget works, giving Tedros “discretion on how to spend” instead of allocating funding for specific projects.

Lastly, Goldberg said, “No processes are in place to remove authoritarian dictators from positions of leadership, to prevent China from concealing another pandemic in the future.”

“These reforms are missing a key agreement,” he said, “and that is, how you would prevent China from covering up the next pandemic?”


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