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As the clock ticks down on 2018, we highlight the key stories that caught our eye this month on anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activity in the health care community. In addition, we offer up for discussion a classic blog post on racism and discrimination in health care from Harvard Medical School.

Enjoy the newsletter - and Happy New Year to all!

Will anti-BDS legislation survive court challenge?

A speech pathologist in Texas has sued to challenge the state's law targeting the anti-Israel Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Bahia Amawi, who is of Palestinian decent, lost her job at an Austin-area school for refusing to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel. Her case aims to have the law struck down by the courts and the pledge removed from employment contracts.

Amawi had worked on contract for the school district since 2009. When the new contract for the 2018-19 school year asked her to pledge not to boycott the Jewish state, she declined. She says she can't sign the pledge "'in good conscience."

“If I did, I would not only be betraying Palestinians suffering under an occupation that I believe is unjust… but I’d also be betraying my fellow Americans by enabling violations of our constitutional rights to free speech and to protest peacefully,” she said.

Anti-BDS laws, which prohibit the state from contracting with an entity that boycotts Israel, are not uncommon in the U.S. The Texas law was enacted in 2017.

The First Amendment lawsuit filed by Amawi pits the right to free speech against claims that the BDS movement is anti-Semitic. The suit is believed to be the first case challenging the constitutionality of anti-BDS legislation. 

Anti-Semitism Top 10: Swedish hospital makes the list

Anti-Semitism at a top Swedish hospital reached No. 9 on the Simon Wiesenthal Center's top-10 list of global anti-Semitic events in 2018. For us at DARA, the scandal at Karolinska University Hospital  rates a top-3 ranking.

As we discussed last month, the head of neurosurgery at the hospital regularly bullied three Jewish staff members. He also posted anti-Semitic statements on his Facebook page.

The high-profile hospital is part of the Karolinska Institute, which announces the Noble Prize for Medicine. As noteworthy as the anti-Semitic actions themselves are, the sluggish response by hospital administrators perhaps reveals more about the culture at the institution.

Leaders at the Simon Wiesenthal Center said the issue has still not been resolved in the 11 months since the organization first intervened. It included the firestorm in its 2018 list of anti-Semitic events, released last week. 

“We are shocked by the lethargic response of Karolinska to the cancer of anti-Semitism,” said the centre's Rabbi Abraham Cooper, who met with hospital administrators. “So far, powerful bigots have been protected and life-saving Jewish physicians are left twisting in the winds of hate.”

The bullying allegedly began three years ago, and has caused the resignation of at least two Jewish employees.

Alleged harassment included referring to two doctors as a "Jewish ghetto," denying access to research funds and preventing Jewish doctors from participating in medical conferences or courses. In one case, a Jewish doctor had been invited to deliver the keynote lecture at a conference. The department head refused to allow him to attend, and instead funded the costs for five non-Jewish doctors – even though they had not received formal invitations. 

The Simon Wiesenthal Center says the high-profile hospital is covering up the scandal. Hospital representatives have responded that Karolinska is investigating the allegations.

The investigation, which is being conducted by an external law firm, is expected to end in January. We will bring you the latest on this important story as it unfolds.

Racism and discrimination in health care

Most physicians navigate jam-packed schedules - so jam-packed that they rarely have time to reflect on the quality of the care they deliver.

But according to one writer on the Harvard Medical School blog, self-reflection is critical if we are going to improve treatment for patients in minority communities.

"We need to be open to identifying and controlling our own implicit biases," writes Dr. Monique Tello in a blog first posted last year. "We need to be able to manage overt bigotry safely, learn from it, and educate others. These themes need to be a part of medical education, as well as institutional policy. We need to practice and model tolerance, respect, open-mindedness, and peace for each other."

Tello was responding to U.S. studies documenting worse health outcomes for blacks and other minorities. While she reviews several possible causes for the health gap between the races, she says bias from health-care providers is one key factor. Doctors themselves, she says, need to focus their microscope on their own explicit and implicit motivations.

Read the full piece at the Harvard Health Blog.

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