The U.N. agency responsible for international health, the WHO, and its director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, have come increasingly under intense criticism for playing dangerous partisan politics. Tedros, the Ethiopian microbiologist who has led the U.N. agency since 2017, visited China in late January to deferentially praise “the actions China has implemented in response to the outbreak” and its leaders’ “transparency” regarding the coronavirus epidemic.
But while the WHO was praising China’s handling of the situation, the country’s Communist authorities had censored information regarding the disease’s victims, muzzling physicians from sounding early warnings. Citizen journalists reporting about the victims had suddenly disappeared, and American journalists were expelled from China. Publication of academic research on the origin of the virus was subject to vetting and approval by Chinese central government officials. As information continued to emerge about China’s downplaying the extent of the COVID-19 outbreak—an action that worsened its impact in the United States and European countries—criticism mounted.
A Wall Street Journal editorial noted the coronavirus epidemic “has exposed the [WHO’s] process for declaring emergencies as prone to politicization … .” But this is not the first time that the WHO director-general has been criticized for allowing political considerations to influence his actions. Nor is it the first time the WHO has used its platform for political purposes.
The WHO has long politicized the topic of Palestinian health care in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
These territories belong to the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean region, made up of largely Arab and Muslim countries (unlike Israel, which belongs to the European region). They are the only non-states included in the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean region and are labeled “Palestine.”
The anti-Israel bias of this division of the WHO is akin to that of the Arab-Soviet Third World bloc that dominated the U.N. General Assembly since the mid-1970s, passing resolutions to demonize Israel under the guise of support for the Palestinians, including the infamous, now repealed, 1975 “Zionism is racism” resolution.
The political and sectarian approach to health care in the West Bank and Gaza is made clear by the WHO’s consistent reference to “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” as well as in the document that sets out the strategic vision in establishing health policies, strategies and plans for Palestinian health-care development efforts. Shortcomings are blamed on Israel with no acknowledgement of the role of the Palestinian leadership—either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas, which run the West Bank and Gaza, respectively—in the conflict itself or in the decisions it makes that compromise health-care delivery.
Similarly, a report on Palestinian health care, published at the end of 2017, lays the blame for problems squarely on Israel, claiming that “as [an] occupying power,” it “bears ultimate responsibility.”
Missing from both these documents is the context of Israel’s complete withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and its takeover by Hamas. There is no discussion about the effect of Palestinian terrorism that impacts the delivery of health care, nor of the decisions by their respective leadership that have an impact on the delivery of health care. No mention of medical ambulances subverted by terrorists, Hamas’s rejection of essential medical supplies from Israel or the diversion of resources by Hamas to benefit its terrorist infrastructure; nothing about the reduction of essential services and halting of medical shipments by the P.A. to Gaza resulting from the internecine Palestinian fighting between it and Hamas; no discussion of the P.A.’s role in delaying or suspending payments for the referral of patients to medical treatment outside of Gaza, or denying access to Israeli hospitals to average Palestinians while allowing senior Palestinian officials to avail themselves of Israeli care.
The WHO’s refusal to address the complexities of the situation and all the factors that disrupt optimal health care for Palestinians speaks to its lack of credibility on the subject.
Much like the reliance on the Chinese Communist government as a source of information on the coronavirus outbreak, the WHO relies on Gaza’s Health Ministry officials as a source of information without regard to the fact that they are employees of a terrorist regime sworn to Israel’s destruction, and that they are following Hamas guidelines for reporting events to outsiders. These health-ministry officials have been shown time and again to lack credibility.
The WHO’s reports about health care in the territories amount to nothing more than partisan political documents to be weaponized by those who seek to demonize Israel. As for the WHO’s country-specific website for what it calls “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” that, too, serves as a source of crude anti-Israel propaganda in the form of videos, health-situation reports, referral-access reports and interviews that are twisted to demonize Israel.
The pandemic has made evident the WHO’s lack of neutrality and politicization of health care. If the WHO is to reclaim its original mission of promoting keeping the world safe, then it must become a neutral arbiter of health care by renouncing political partisanship across the board.
Ricki Hollander is a senior analyst at CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.