DR. RICHARD HORTON, editor of ‘The Lancet,’ presents President Reuven Rivlin with a copy of the publication’s issue.
(photo credit: PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON OFFICE)
Accompanied by physicians and researchers from most of Israel’s major medical centers and institutions, Dr. Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of the highly respected medical journal The Lancet, met with President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday to present him with a copy of the issue devoted to healthcare in Israel.
The in-depth exploration into Israel’s health services was the outcome of a response to what Horton termed “a letter of anguish” that was published in the journal in 2014. The letter denounced what it termed “Israeli aggression in Gaza” and used expressions such as “military onslaught on civilians,” “massacre” and other similar terminology.
The letter had the opposite effect of what was intended.
There was a worldwide call in medical circles to boycott The Lancet, and there were angry responses to the letter, which Horton said “divided world medical opinion and caused polarization.” Horton was surprised to receive, from Israel of all places, a letter signed by Prof. Rafael Boyer and Prof. Karl Skorecki, director-general and director, respectively, of medical research and development at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, “who extended a hand of peace, friendship and understanding.”
They invited him to come to Rambam “to listen and learn.”
What was initially a dispute became a debate and is now an ongoing dialogue, not only with Boyer and Skorecki but with leading figures in science, medicine and healthcare throughout Israel. Horton started out as a critic and became instead a friend and admirer of “fantastic health funds, five world-class medical schools and internationally competitive medical research institutions” that he said are improving the lives of Israeli citizens and reaching out across borders.
Horton made particular mention of the 4,000 wounded Syrian citizens for whom Israel has provided healthcare.
He also spoke about protecting and defending Israel’s gains and the need to resolve the disparities between different sectors of Israeli society.
“We see Israel as a secure society, but there is no point in defending the borders if no investment is made in the human capital – namely health, education and welfare,” he said.
Horton expressed concern that a third of Israel’s children, mostly ultra-Orthodox and Arab, are living in poverty.
Turning to the subject of boycotts, Horton said: “I utterly reject boycotts against Israel.”
Boycotts are not a way to settle differences, he added, as they just cause prejudice and hatred to become entrenched.
“Disagreement can be an evil force in society, but if we convert it to a joint search for truth it can have a very powerful beneficial effect,” he continued.
“In order to be right, we have to admit that we can be wrong.
We converted disagreement into debate.”
Horton added that he is now working with Palestinian and Israeli colleagues.
Prof. Orly Manor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who chairs the Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research, is a member of the dialogue group. She described herself as “a person of dialogue” and said that over the past two years the group had gone from suspicion, disagreement and anger to trust, dialogue and engagement, creating something positive.
Rivlin voiced his pride in Israel’s health system, and said that even though there might be tension on the streets of Jerusalem, in the Hadassah and Shaare Zedek hospitals in the capital, where Jewish and Arab doctors and nurses work side by side, there is harmony.
“Medicine and politics do not go together,” he added.