Lancet editor's visit to Israel still causing stir

Some demanded that he retract an anti-Semitic article he allowed to be published during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.

By
October 12, 2014 20:49
Rambam Medical Center

The Lancet editor Prof. Richard Horton at Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center. (photo credit: COURTESY RAMBAM MEDICAL CENTER)

Little more than a week after The Lancet editor Prof. Richard Horton said his first visit to Israel was a turning point in his appreciation of the country, the editorial he wrote in the leading British medical journal upon his return disappointed some physicians and friends of Israel, with some demanding that he retract an anti-Semitic article he allowed to be published during Operation Protective Edge, and some even resigning from their connections with the journal’s publisher.

Yet others, especially those involved with Horton’s intensive, three-day visit earlier this month at the invitation of Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center, which included discussions with Israeli Arab physicians and medical ethicists, said the editorial was “a step in the right direction” of Horton’s new awareness of Israel’s positive aspects that he said “don’t reach Britain.”

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While Horton has visited Gaza and the West Bank seven times in recent years, he was never invited to Israel until the recent stay.

The Health Ministry’s director- general, Prof. Arnon Afek, said that “Horton’s editorial was brave,” and that he was very pleased with the results of the visit.

The NGO Monitor, a watchdog organization, said that Horton’s editorial “marks another step toward ending the exploitation of this journal for demonizing Israel. The creation of a ‘new partnership to publish a series on Israel’s health and medical research system’ will be significant.”

But the organization also skewered him for failing to “retract or apologize for his own central responsibility for the mendacious ‘An Open Letter for the People of Gaza’ that appeared in the journal in July... [which] consisted of political slogans, blatantly false allegations against Israel and the Israeli medical community, as well as the whitewashing of 4,560 rocket attacks from Gaza targeting Israeli civilians – every one a war crime. It is clear that this letter should never been published. While these issues were raised many times during his visit to Israel, Horton’s editorial makes no reference to them.”

The NGO Monitor called on Horton and the journal’s publisher, Elsevier, to “acknowledge their central role in the tendentious activities of the politicized Lancet-Palestinian Health Alliance. This framework gives a central role to Medical Aid for Palestinians, an NGO co-founded by Swee Ang, one of the promoters of the anti-Semitic Duke video and a co-author of the Gaza letter.”

The NGO Monitor called on Horton to “issue a formal and unequivocal retraction and apology to be published prominently both on the website and hard copy issue of The Lancet, remove the July letter from the journal’s website, establish long-overdue professional processes to review articles on complex political issues including on the Arab-Israeli conflict and initiate a review of Lancet articles related to Israel published since 1 January 2001 to determine whether and which articles fail to meet established scientific standards, and to issue retractions.”

In the editorial, Horton wrote: “First, some reflections.

At a moment of unbearable human destruction in Gaza, the unintended outcome of the Manduca et al. letter was an extreme polarization of already divided positions. This schism helped no one, and I certainly regret that result.”

Regarding the offensive letter published during the war, he said, “important interests should have been declared earlier. Also, although political determinants of health are real, there are reasons to be vigilant about how these are discussed.”

“At Rambam, I saw an inspiring model of partnership between Jews and Arabs in a part of Israel where 40 percent 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 healthcare 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,” he added.

Horton said he will come back to Israel in January to “initiate a new partnership to publish a series on Israel’s health and medical research system, its strengths and challenges and prospects for its future.”

In the future, he concluded, his policy will be to “work with Palestinians, work with Israelis and encourage both communities to work together.

War is not the answer.”

Prof. Karl Skorecki, director of the Rappaport Research Institute at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and director of medical and research development at Rambam, who invited Horton to make his first visit to Israel, said that “I am deeply gratified by the opportunity that has arisen to make every attempt for me and colleagues at Rambam and other centers in Israel to open a new state of mind in the interaction of Israeli medicine with The Lancet.”

“Prof. Richard Horton’s clear-cut statement of The Lancet’s opposition to ‘all forms of boycott’ is especially noteworthy...I already see some evidence of a new beginning in the bidirectional dialogue in some email communications on which I happen to have been copied between leading members of Israel’s medical community and Prof. Horton.

Having spent many hours of interaction with him and having attended and accompanied him on many of the visits, it is clear to me that there is a genuine and precious opportunity at this time, that we dare not forgo.”

Rambam director-general Prof. Rafael Beyar added that Horton’s editorial “is a reflection of his changing opinions during his visit to Rambam last week, [where] he saw the reality of medical life... I have no doubt that seeing the reality at Rambam, which is a reflection of the reality of medical life throughout Israel, gave Horton a different perspective then what he had before his visit and a more balanced approach towards the region.”

Prof. Shimon Glick, an expert on medical ethics and emeritus dean of Ben-Gurion University’s Health Sciences Faculty, told The Jerusalem Post that he had been “very skeptical” about Horton, given what he has written and stood for other the years.

“I didn’t think Horton would withdraw his original article, as he has not been keen in the past to retract false medical articles. He doesn’t like criticism.

But I think Horton’s visit and what he learned here had a tremendous impact. He has changed. Opponents can still pressure The Lancet, but this is a beginning, and he should be respected for it,” he said.

But Prof. Paul Zimmet, a leading Australian diabetologist, initiated a “call to action to institute guidelines governing ethical publishing of science and medicine free of divisive political opinion,” and called to “change the corporate behavior of Elsevier!” Prof. Mark Pepys, director of the Wolfson drug discovery unit at University College London, declared that he will “not contribute in any way to any Elsevier enterprise while Richard Horton remains the editor of The Lancet and until there is a published apology and retraction of the vile Manduca et al. publication.”

Echoing this, leading University of Washington metabolism expert Prof. Stephen Kahn said he was resigning as associate editor of Elsevier’s Journal of Diabetes and Its Complications.


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