Helsinki in Zion: Hospital ethics committees and political gatekeeping in Israel/Palestine

Guy Shalev*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article looks at six months of the author's repeated attempts to obtain the approval of three Helsinki Committees (HCs, Israeli hospitals’ research ethics committees) to conduct ethnographic research with Palestinian physicians in Israeli hospitals. While the research was eventually approved and carried out in two of these institutions, correspondence with HC representatives, as well as evidence of their informal moves with institutions’ management, reflect their perceptions of the risks the study posed. In the Israeli hospital, acknowledging Palestinian political subjectivity challenges the definition of Israeli nationhood as exclusively Jewish and contaminates the allegedly politically neutral medical sphere. These committees exerted their power to serve their institutions and state ideology. This, I argue, should not be understood as anomalous instances of negligence. I show how the committees’ censorship was attuned to the Declaration of Helsinki as their guiding text and Zionism as their underlying ideology. Embedded in the powerful regimes of ethics, bureaucracy, science, and health, ethics committees employ “unarmed power” that is beyond critique. They are well-oiled “anti-politics machines,” rearticulating political concerns into a depoliticized moral discourse. As such, they not only limit academic inquiry but also redefine, in political terms, the realm of the moral.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)688-702
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • IRB
  • Israel/Palestine
  • hospital ethnography
  • nationalism
  • neutrality


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