The Lancet editor relents on medical journal’s unbalanced attacks on Israel

During Gaza war, The Lancet published a 1,600-word “Open letter for the people in Gaza” that aroused a wave of protest among advocates of Israeli around the world.

The Lancet editor Prof. Richard Horton at Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center (photo credit: COURTESY RAMBAM MEDICAL CENTER)
The Lancet editor Prof. Richard Horton at Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center
The Lancet editor Prof. Richard Horton – who has been accused for many years by pro-Israeli groups of being unfair to Israel and even “anti-Semitic” for the politics he has allowed to appear in the medical journal – seems to have repented.
At the end of his three-day visit with senior researchers and physicians at Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center, Horton said his visit to Israel was “a turning point for me and my relationship with this region.”
Horton promised to write positively in the next edition of the British journal next week.
The outcome of his visit thus holds a promise for new academic and medical collaborations that Horton has promised to support.
“I am proud and humbled to be here... I’ve learned a great deal: Rambam as a model of the partnership between Jews and Arabs; Rambam as a center offering an open hand to the people of Palestine; and Rambam as a place with a unique vision for a peaceful, productive, and diverse future among peoples,” Horton said.
Horton, who delivered a lecture to the Haifa doctors on Thursday, said he visits the Middle East yearly and sometimes several times a year because of his concern for the region. His three days of seminars and meetings with senior researchers and physicians at Rambam and the Technion’s Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine was initiated by Prof. Karl Skorecki, Rambam’s director of medical research, and director-general Prof. Rafi Beyar, a world-famous interventional cardiologist.
Horton’s visit included tours of some of Rambam’s medical units, a series of medical and ethical lectures, discussions, debates, and visits to Isifiya and Acre. He also spent an intensive day that included a discussion on science and medicine as a catalyst for peaceful coexistence, which was coordinated by Prof. Zaher Azzam, head of Rambam’s internal medicne B and vice dean of the Technion’s medical faculty. Prof. Asa Kasher, a renowned ethics philosopher, spoke on the ethics of armed conflict and responsible scholarly journalism.
Horton and The Lancet – one of the world’s leading general medical journals – published during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza a 1,600- word “Open letter for the people in Gaza” that aroused a wave of protest among advocates of Israel around the world. It had been written by Drs. Paola Manduca, Iain Chalmers, Derek Summerfield, Mads Gilbert, and Swee Ang on behalf of 24 signatories.
“On the basis of our ethics and practice, we are denouncing what we witness in the aggression of Gaza by Israel. We ask our colleagues, old and young professionals, to denounce this Israeli aggression. We challenge the perversity of a propaganda that justifies the creation of an emergency to masquerade a massacre, a so-called defensive aggression. In reality it is a ruthless assault of unlimited duration, extent, and intensity,” the letter went.
The journal article made no mention of the incessant rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas terrorists, the placing of rocket launchers in schools and hospitals to magnify the damage of defensive attacks or the bloodbath in Syria and other parts of the world.
It took weeks of protest by pro-Israeli letter writers until Horton’s journal published some of their reactions, which covered much less space than the original letter.
In a potentially charged atmosphere, the discussion at Rambam was handled with the utmost of respect and professionalism, with Kasher and Horton shaking hands and continuing their discussion after the lecture had ended.
The Horton lecture at Rambam
There was also a debate on the subject “Publications which promote political agendas have no place in scientific and medical journalism and academics should refrain from publishing in such journals.”
Supporting this premise was Ben-Gurion University geriatrics Prof. Mark Clarfield; opposing was Dr. Rael Strous, a Tel Aviv University psychiatrist. Horton also met with doctors who had worked in the front lines during the Gaza conflict and treated both Israeli soldiers and Gazan patients.
Horton also met with young Israeli and Arab doctors to gain their perspective on the situation and to better understand the working coexistence at Rambam. During all meetings, Horton took meticulous notes, paying careful attention to all that was shared, his posture showing his stated intention, “to learn.”
Speaking to a standing room only audience on Thursday, Horton declared: “I need, very honestly, to set the record straight with you. First, I deeply regret the completely unnecessary polarization that publication of the letter by Paola Manduca caused... Second, I was personally horrified at the offensive video that was forwarded by two of the authors of that letter. The world view expressed in that video is abhorrent and must be condemned, and I condemn it.” He was met with applause.
The British doctor also said he would welcome receiving for publication scientific papers from Israel and to promote collaboration between Rambam and The Lancet “to further the cause of health care at all levels of society for all peoples.” His visit, he said, will result in “a fresh start for a new and different future.”
Asked by The Jerusalem Post to comment on Horton’s “turnaround,” Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of the NGO Monitor organization in Jerusalem and an angry critic of Horton said: “As a long-time and vocal critic of [him,]I was impressed when he announced important steps which, in his words, will mark a new chapter in his and The Lancet’s relationship with Israel. He clearly listened to Israeli voices, and I give him credit for expressing his 'deep deep regret' at having published the infamous Manduca letter on Gaza in July, as well as stating that the authors’ promotion of anti-Semitic David Duke material is ‘abhorrent.’"
“Also, the framework for workshops and publications on Israeli medical contributions and the unique cooperation among different sectors of society contrasts with The Lancet’s previous demonization of Israel and emphasis on the Palestinian narrative. In this way, Horton can set an example for others that exploit medical allegations for political warfare and demonization,” said Steinberg, who wrote an anti-Horton oped in the Post this week.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Yael German met with Horton in Tel Aviv on Thursday.
They visited together the medical clinic that treats refugees at no cost at the Central Bus Station, and Horton expressed his amazement over the “high level of healthcare and accessibility to medical care. He saw that translators are available and written material on medical conditions is available in numerous languages. Horton said he had been nervous before his visit but was glad to see “a different reality and the humanitarian efforts Israel and its medical teams make for refugees, Syrian wounded, patients from the West Bank and Gaza, and needy populations in Israel.
Health Ministry director-general Prof. Arnon Afek added that “the way to cope with various views is to have discussions and open gates.”
Horton responded that Israel “must more often show its beautiful face in health and science that I saw here during my visit” and that these aspects are hidden and not expressed in the media in England especially and the world in general.
It is important to show it. He intends to make another visit to Israel in a few months as part of a joint project with the Health Ministry.