The Lancet Editor Reconsiders Israel

  • by:
    • Susan Heller Pinto
  • October 20, 2014

In a significant about face, Dr. Richard Horton, the editor of the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, published an article on October 11 reflecting on his recent visit to Israel and announcing several policy initiatives the journal will now undertake which will more accurately reflect the Israeli medical system and deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Horton’s visit to Israel and his written reflections came in the aftermath of a firestorm that met The Lancet’s posting on July 23 of a highly one-sided, propagandistic  “Open Letter for the People of Gaza,”  condemning Israeli “aggression” in Gaza and charging Israel and Israeli physicians with full culpability for the situation in Gaza.    The letter, signed by 24 individuals who identified themselves as “doctors and scientists, who spend our lives developing means to care and protect health and lives” (many of whom have been strongly critical of Israel for a long time), appeared on The Lancet website without any counter-perspective and, initially, the publication encouraged readers to add their names. As of July 30, the website had garnered 20,000 signatures before the signing function was shut down. The Lancet later posted a handful of letters in response to the Gaza open letter on its website, including many by Israeli physicians and medical professionals.

Controversy over the letter raged at the height of the Israel-Hamas conflict, with many, including ADL, calling into questions Dr. Horton’s decision to feature such a “partisan” and “highly politicized screed.”

In September, Horton, invited by Professor Karl Skorecki of the Rambam Hospital in Haifa, decided to visit Israel for the first time. (See a video of his speech at Rambam below.)   The reality of Israel apparently took Dr. Horton by surprise.  He writes:

At Rambam I saw an inspiring model of partnership between Jews and Arabs in a part of Israel where 40% of the population is Arab. I saw Rambam offering an open hand, gladly grasped by families from Gaza, the West Bank, and Syria, who were living with life-threatening health-care needs. I saw Rambam as one example of a vision for a peaceful and productive future between peoples, which I learned exists throughout Israel's hospitals.

Significantly, Dr. Horton admitted :  “I have seen for myself that what was written in the Manduca et al letter does not describe the full reality.”

He also laid out new guidelines for the editors to more thoroughly review the “interests” of authors, as well as consider how to approach potentially divisive and polarizing content, and announced plans for a Lancet series on Israel’s health and medical system.

In a letter to Dr. Horton, ADL commended his article and statements and requested that a link to it appear prominently alongside the “Open Letter” which can still be found on The Lancet website.   ADL also noted that:

In your October 11 article you state that “…The Lancet opposes all forms of boycott.”   You may be aware that numerous anti-Israel resolutions presented in universities, professional associations and the like – including those calling for boycotts of and divestment from Israel – cite material from The Lancet in bolstering their advocacy.  We urge you to speak out against all efforts to link The Lancet to advocacy in favor of boycotting Israel, its academics and professionals.

Dr. Horton says he will return to Israel in January 2015.  Medical professional around the world will watch with interest what might result from this new awareness and openness to Israel.

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