Antivax doctor’s license permanently revoked after court rejects appeal

Arieh Avni appealed Health Ministry’s 2021 decision to bar him from practicing, but judge upholds ruling, saying, ‘We must distinguish between opinion and incitement’

Arieh Avni. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Arieh Avni. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Antivaxxer doctor Arieh Avni’s license to practice medicine was permanently stripped Sunday after the Jerusalem District Court rejected his appeal.

Avni had appealed the Health Ministry’s 2021 decision to cancel his license, claiming that free speech gave him the right to disseminate his views.

Avni told the court that his aim was to help the public and save them from medications and vaccinations that would cause them harm, such as cancer, autism and other diseases.

Rejecting Avni’s claim, Judge Nimrod Flax said, “We must distinguish between having an opinion and incitement… [Avni was] conducting a smear campaign against the medical authorities, in order to try to dissuade the public from acting in accordance with their directive.

“A doctor who chooses a path of delegitimization such as this excludes himself, and behaves in a manner unbefitting a licensed doctor,” Flax said.

Avni operates a website popular among the Israeli antivaxxer community where he has published a multitude of articles spreading conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and Israel’s vaccination drive, as well as repeatedly slandering health officials. He also runs the Facebook page “Correct Medicine: Dr. Arieh Avni,” where he writes widely shared posts spreading his theories.

Avni has previously said that “anyone who administers a vaccine is, to me, like Mengele,” referring to the notorious Nazi death camp doctor.

At the height of the pandemic, Avni opened a clinic in Bnei Brak where he spread misinformation on the virus and offered forged immunization certificates and exemptions from wearing masks for pay.

Illustrative: An Israeli receives a COVID-19 vaccine injection at a mobile vaccine station at the beach in Tel Aviv, February 20, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

According to the original 2021 ruling by retired judge Amnon Strashnov, who was appointed by then-health minister Yuli Edelstein to oversee the case to revoke Avni’s license, he posed a danger to the public.

“There is no doubt that the harsh and blatant statements of [Avni] in articles he published on his website, on Facebook and recently also on YouTube, against COVID vaccination constitute a real danger to public safety and health,” Strashnov wrote.

“Add to this his unbridled, blatant and baseless remarks toward the medical community and the heads of the Health Ministry — which go far beyond what is reasonable and permissible in the context of freedom of expression, which is an important and protected value in any democratic society — and you have a clear prescription for total anarchy, while he enjoys the title of ‘doctor,'” the ruling said.

At the time, in February 2021, Facebook announced that it had removed a major Israeli group promoting conspiracy theories about the vaccines that had urged its thousands of members to schedule appointments to inoculate and then to cancel them at the last minute, forcing HMOs to throw out unused doses.

Facebook said that the group violated its community standards regarding fake news.

The removal of the group from the social media platform came after the Health Ministry reportedly asked Facebook to take down the posts of antivaxxers bragging about their exploits. The social media giant has pledged to keep antivaxxers and those spreading fake vaccination information off its platform.

The group, which had over 12,000 members, featured false information about the virus and the vaccines’ efficacy and safety, alongside conspiracy videos and efforts to thwart the country’s vaccination drive.

Days later, the social media giant deleted another group associated with popular Israeli rabbi Amnon Yitzhak that peddled fake news about the pandemic and immunizations.

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