Pittsburgh psychiatrist opposed to Desmond Tutu speech at national meeting
A Pittsburgh area psychiatrist is protesting an appearance by South African Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu at a national psychiatric gathering in May.
Tutu is scheduled to deliver the principal address at the Convocation of Fellows during the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting in Hawaii. He also will be made an honorary fellow at that time.
All of which irks many Jewish members of the APA, including Dr. Daniel Shrager of Jefferson Hills, a member of Beth Israel Center. Shrager and several other APA members are planning some way to register their displeasure with Tutu’s appearance during the meeting.
He wasn’t prepared to disclose the details of that protest, but 27 members, who have decided not to attend the gathering, have listed their names on an ad, which will run in the next issue of Psychiatric Times — the APA publication — explaining why.
One of the signees, Dr. Thomas G. Gutheil, a distinguished life fellow of the APA, has gone further, resigning from the organization.
“Although my feeling that the APA does not have its members’ interests at heart has been growing for many years,” Gutheil wrote in a letter to the members, “the precipitant for this action is, first, the selection of Archbishop Desmond Tutu as recipient of one of APA’s highest honors, the role of convocation speaker and second (and more important), the complete indifference and non-responsiveness of the leadership when his despicable record of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel communications was explicitly pointed out by actual cites and quotations. The leadership’s refusal not only to dis-invite him but even to respond to members’ concerns was, for me, the final straw.”
Tutu’s anti-Israel remarks are well known in Jewish circles. Not only has he referred to Israel as an apartheid state, last year he urged the Cape Town Opera to cancel a tour of Israel, which it refused to do, and called for an academic, artistic, social and political boycott of Israel including the severing of research cooperation on water purification between the University of Johannesburg and Ben Gurion University in Israel. APA is on record with a position statement opposing all academic boycotts.
Among his many other controversial remarks, Tutu has said the Palestinians are paying “penance” for the Holocaust.
Shrager believes the APA didn’t properly vet Tutu before inviting him to speak, and that its president, Dr. Carol Bernstein, wasn’t aware of his anti-Israel stances.
But in a reply to an e-mailed query by Shrager, he said Bernstein did not back away from her position on the cleric’s appearance at the annual meeting.
“She said she really liked him and he had good things to say,” said Shrager, paraphrasing Bernstein’s response to him. “She said something about people taking things out of context, but nothing that ever responded to the concerns, no actual response to the anti-Israel sentiment — not just anti-Israel, some of his remarks are clearly anti-Semitic.”
Bernstein said she was unavailable to talk when reached by the Chronicle by phone on Monday. She also did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment or a message left at her office.
As Shrager gets involved in the protest, he said he’s discovering that many people are unaware of Tutu’s criticism of Israel.
“Not many people know about his anti-Israel rhetoric,” he said. “They remember him as a part of the anti-apartheid event and that’s about it.”
Shrager is no stranger to public battles such as these.
In 2003, he won a court battle against Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and its subcontractors for terminating his participation in the program because he refused to share confidential patient files with the HMO. At the time, the case was believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)