Change of heart for formerly anti-Israel medical journal

The series describes the achievements and shortcomings of the Israeli health system and also makes recommendations to improve it.

May 8, 2017 22:23
2 minute read.
MEN EXIT the emergency room at Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba.

MEN EXIT the emergency room at Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

After years of publishing anti-Israel articles and letters, the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet is launching a series of positive articles over the next few weeks on the Jewish state’s medical system.

The initiative was made possible by doctors from Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center and Ben-Gurion University, which first invited the journal’s editor-in-chief, Prof.

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Richard Horton, to Israel three years ago.

After touring hospitals and other medical facilities in Israel, Horton reached the conclusion that the popular notion, particularly in Britain, that such facilities are “discriminatory” against Arab and Palestinian patients and staff was untrue and unfair.

“During the last Gaza war, a ridiculous letter by Paola Manduca and colleagues was published in the Lancet, which first appeared in 1823. The letter was a blood libel against Israeli medicine,” said Prof.

Mark Clarfield, a senior geriatrician and director of BGU’s Medical School for International Health.

“We here went crazy to fight back,” he added.

Horton was intrigued with a response letter by Prof. Kark Skorecki, director of medical and research development at Rambam.

Although Arab and Muslim countries had frequently invited Horton for visits, the Foreign Ministry had never invited the well-traveled Horton to Israel, thinking he was a hopeless “enemy” of the Jewish state.

But Skorecki and Rambam director-general Prof. Rafael Beyar believed all was not lost and invited the Lancet editor to see first-hand Israel’s medical system.

“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,” Horton wrote in The Lancet after his 2014 visit. “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.”

“In the fall of that year, we took him to medical facilities all over the North, and he was very impressed. He realized he had been wrong about Israel,” Clarfield recalled. “He knew much more about Somalia than the Middle East.”

Horton, 55, who joined The Lancet in 1990 and became editor-in-chief five years later, has since made several visits to Israel.

He arrived here this week to promote the journal’s series, and is scheduled to meet with President Reuven Rivlin and be interviewed by The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

The series, which was written by Israeli physicians and researchers and peer-reviewed by outsiders, was launched on Monday at the annual conference of the Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research. It addresses topics such as maternal and child health, aging, health disparities, women in health, medical ethics, medical education, the startup nation in medicine and Israeli humanitarian treatment of Syrian refugees.

“I didn’t detect any hostility to Israel among the peer reviewers,” Clarfield said.

The series describes the achievements and shortcomings of the Israeli health system and also makes recommendations to improve it.

“Through the generous and courageous outreach of the authors of this series, we have sought to show that medicine and science can be a bridge to a better understanding of complex and seemingly intractable geopolitical challenges,” said Horton. “Our future commitment is to work intensively with both our Palestinian and Israeli colleagues to provide the foundations in one aspect of society for peace and justice.”

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