In bypassing Senate confirmation, Donald Berwick avoided scrutiny of his belief that Britain’s National Health Service was a mode for reforming healthcare in America as well as any business relationships that might overlap with those he will oversee as he implements Obamacare and Medicare cuts. The ensuing furor overshadowed Dr. Berwick’s growing involvement with the international advocacy group, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). PHR was established with funding from the Ford Foundation “to investigate the health consequences of human rights violations and work to stop them.”
Two facets of Berwick’s involvement with PHR are noteworthy in light of his extremely liberal views about the role of healthcare as a vehicle for social justice and income redistribution. Berwick began donating thousands of dollars to PHR in 2000 when the outfit was focusing most, if not all of its, investigations on Israel’s treatment of terrorists during the Intifada. For instance, PHR “conducted a medical and forensic investigation in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank from October 20-27, 2000 to investigate allegations of excessive use of force, including the use of prohibited ammunition in the current conflict between Israeli forces and Palestinian demonstrators and authorities.”
In 2002 PHR released another report on the impact of Israel’s battle against Fatah and terrorists holed up in Jenin. The PHR investigation added credibility to the false claim that the IDF massacred the population. It went after Israel in seven major reports. By comparison it launched one report on Zimbabwe, five on Sudan, none on Iran or Iraq or North Korea. (PHR also issued 12 reports on the U.S. and its interrogation of terrorists). It also gave an award to Eyad Sarraj, a human rights activist in Gaza who later justified homicide bombings as a natural response to Ariel Sharon’s election as prime minister and helped organize the recent flotilla operation. During this time, Berwick’s contributions to PHR steadily increased.
In 2008 he joined the board of PHR, which must be seen as an endorsement of the organization’s mission and focus. In doing so he arrived just as Richard Goldstone, his fellow board member, was involved with the United Nations in laying the groundwork for investigating whether Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, initiated in response to rocket attacks on Israeli civilians by Hamas, constituted war crimes. The following PHR press release all but accuses Israel of deliberately targeting wounded civilians and medical facilities. These charges would later be the core of the Goldstone’s commission report war crimes accusations:
PHR has received recent reports from medical colleagues and human rights organizations in Israel [my emphasis] that among other violations, a clearly marked Red Cross supply truck, pre-coordinated with the IDF for transport, was nonetheless fired on by Israeli tanks and that the A-Raeiya Medical Center and clinics, far from military or government installations in Gaza, were attacked from the air by Israel causing $800,000 worth of damage and preventing care for hundreds of Gaza residents.
PHR noted that military violence in as densely populated a location as Gaza inevitably will cause extensive civilian casualties, and the organization appealed to both parties to this conflict to negotiate an immediate ceasefire on humanitarian and human rights grounds. PHR CEO Frank Donaghue stated today, “The parties to this horrific conflict are choking an entire population — threatening access to food, shelter, medical care, and creating daily terror and insecurity. No military objectives can justify this.”
During a time when PHR helped coordinate Goldstone’s activities against Israel, Berwick moved from being just a contributor to being a board member. Dr. Berwick was not and should not be held responsible for Goldstone’s actions on behalf on the UN Human Rights Commission. But he willingly increased his support for and involvement in an organization that singled out Israel for human rights abuses and mistreatment of civilians. He joined the board of PHR at a time when Goldstone was taking a leading role and PHR’s public statements were framing the central arguments Goldstone would advance.
At the same time, Berwick was not only lauding Britain’s National Health Service as a towering example of social justice, he was pocketing millions in compensation and free lifetime health benefits courtesy of the corporations and health interests he will now both regulate and reward. His involvement in the anti-Israel PHR will not disqualify him the eyes of his liberal supporters, particularly among reorganized ranks of the Journolistas. Indeed, it will likely only lead them to redouble their coordinated effort on his behalf. You can’t be a true “progressive” unless you attack Israel or are criticized for doing so. Today Berwick is their man, in more ways than one.