In the News: The Doctor Who Threatened to Poison Jews

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It’s probably the most appalling story of the year (so far. The year is young, so give it time!). Dr. Lara Kollab, a resident at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, was fired after a tweet was revealed saying that she would give Jews the wrong medications. Kollab had worked in the internal medicine program since July 2018. (As a first-year resident, Kollab worked with patients under heavy supervision, as is standard procedure. According to the clinic, no patient harm has been attributed to her.)

In a statement, the State Medical Board of Ohio said that their mission is “to protect the health and safety of all Ohioans. Malicious acts and attitudes toward any population go against the Medical Practices Act and are denounced by the board.” This certainly would include threatening to poison an entire demographic.

Ironically, Kollab was trained at the Touro College of Medicine in New York City, whose mission is to “educate, perpetuate and enrich the historic Jewish tradition of tolerance and dignity.”

The website Canary Mission, a site dedicated to exposing anti-Semitism, has a large archive of tweets from Kollab, spanning the years 2011-2017. Here is just a small representative sample:

This is really just the tip of the iceberg as there are many, many more such tweets from Kollab. The one that broke the camel’s back, however, was this one:

hahha ewww.. ill purposely give all the yahood [Jews] the wrong meds… (January 2, 2012)

On December 31, 2018, Dr. Afshine Emrani shared Kollab’s tweet on Facebook, writing:

One of the most vile and shameful antisemitic posts I’ve seen. I’ve treated so many people who I know hated me for being Iranian or Jewish, but I’ve always done my best for patients regardless of how they viewed me. That’s what your Oath means. But, this piece of work, who is an Internal Medicine resident at the Cleveland Clinic wants to kill Jews by poisoning them with the wrong medicine. Her license should be investigated immediately. I’m truly worried she could harm many Jewish patients.

(It may be worth noting that, while the most grievous, this was not Kollab’s only tweet conflating her virulent Jew-hatred with her burgeoning medical career. On May 4, 2013, she tweeted, “Studying for my med micro final, came across this. Clearly, I pay attention in class and write very useful notes.” Appended to the tweet was a photo of a handwritten note reading, “People who support Israel should have their immune cells killed so they can see how it feels to not be able to defend yourself from foreign invaders.”)

Happily, this threat was taken seriously and investigated, with appropriate action being taken.

I often use stories from Tanach to illustrate current events. When thinking of Kollab’s threat, I made the following observation. There are lots of cases where someone smiles and speaks nicely to another while secretly planning them harm. Obvious examples include the serpent in Eden and Yaakov’s father-in-law Lavan. There are also plenty of times when someone threatens harm and actually means it, such as Ravshakeh, who delivered Sancheriv’s threats as told in both II Kings and Isaiah. What I didn’t find was a case where someone made a threat and didn’t mean it. I can’t find a case where Nebuchadnezzar, Ahab or Haman says, “lol jk.”

When someone makes a threat, issues a warning or puts you on notice, you have two courses of action: you can take them seriously or blow them off. Blowing them off generally doesn’t end well.

I thought about examples of this and came up with several. God told Adam not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge or there would be consequences; Adam didn’t listen and there were consequences. Moshe told Pharaoh to let the Jews go or there would be consequences; Pharaoh didn’t listen and there were consequences. Umpteen prophets told the Jews to repent or there would be consequences; the Jews didn’t listen and there were consequences. All of these, however, include an element of Divine justice, so I decided to go with the strictly-human story of Shimei ben Gera.

In II Samuel 16, when David was driven from Jerusalem by a coup, he was accosted by Shimei ben Gera, who said that David deserved this for taking the throne from Saul. David had bigger problems to deal with so he left Shimei alone. In chapter 19, after the coup was quenched and David was returning to Jerusalem, Shimei groveled apologetically to the king. On his deathbed, David warned his son Shlomo not to trust Shimei, who was two-faced and couldn’t be trusted. When Shlomo became king, in I Kings chapter 2, he put Shimei on probation: Shimei was never to leave Jerusalem, on pain of death.

Three years later, Shimei left Jerusalem to retrieve some escaped slaves. He probably figured that after three years of good behavior, it was safe to step out briefly and then return. But in doing so, he failed to take Shlomo’s warning seriously. This was a mistake because, in response to this unauthorized leave, Shlomo had him put to death.

This story parallels Kollab’s story in two ways. In one way, she’s Shlomo and we’re Shimei ben Gera: we have the option to take her threat seriously or to assume that it no longer applies. Shimei took that gamble and it ended poorly. We are wise not to act as he did.

The other parallel relies on a postscript to Kollab’s story that many may have overlooked: she apologized. Through her attorney, Kollab wrote:

Several social media comments posted on my twitter account years ago have surfaced recently, causing pain, anguish, and a public outcry. I wish sincerely and unequivocally to apologize for the offensive and hurtful language contained in those posts. This statement is not intended to excuse the content of the posts, but rather to demonstrate that those words do not represent who I am and the principles I stand for today. …

As a girl in my teens and early twenties, I had difficulty constructively expressing my intense feelings about what I witnessed in my ancestral land. Like many young people lacking life experience, I expressed myself by making insensitive remarks and statements of passion devoid of thought, not realizing the harm and offense these words would cause.

These posts were made years before I was accepted into medical school, when I was a naïve, and impressionable girl barely out of high school. I matured into a young adult during the years I attended college and medical school, and adopted strong values of inclusion, tolerance, and humanity. I take my profession and the Hippocratic Oath seriously and would never intentionally cause harm to any patient seeking medical care. As a physician, I will always strive to give the best medical treatment to all people, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, or culture.

I have learned from this experience and am sorry for the pain I have caused. I pray that the Jewish community will understand and forgive me. I hope to make amends so that we can move forward and work together towards a better future for us all.

The question is, how sincere is the apology? Has Kollab truly changed over the years or, like Shimei apologizing to David, is she merely trying to mitigate the consequences of her actions? In this way, she’s like Shimei and we’re like Shlomo, putting her under careful watch with no room for backsliding. Dr. Lara Kollab has the rest of her life to prove that she has changed. As with Shimei ben Gera, however, it is her actions that will matter, not her words.

Rabbi Jack Abramowitz is Torah Content Editor at the Orthodox Union. He is the author of six books, including The Tzniyus Book and The Taryag Companion. His latest work, The God Book, is available from OU Press as well as on Amazon.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.