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Editorials

Politics, medical journals, the medical profession and the Israel lobby

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h2377 (Published 12 May 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2377

Analysis of John Yudkin and Jennifer Leaning in the British Medical Journal, May 12, 2015

In the ongoing controversy regarding The Lancet’s political agenda, on May 12, 2015, the British Medical Journal published an editorial tendentiously titled “Politics, medical journals, the medical profession and the Israel lobby,” by Drs. John Yudkin and Jennifer Leaning. [1] The authors attacked “Concerned Academics for Editorial Ethics,” a group of over 750 academics, including 5 Nobel Laureates that has publicly called for a retraction and apology over the publishing of the infamous July 23, 2014 “Open Letter for the People of Gaza." Yudkin and Leaning accused its members of stifling free speech in medical publications and, as indicted by the headline, acting nefariously on behalf of an “Israel lobby.”[2] In addition to ignoring the documented substantive criticisms of The Lancet and its editor, Richard Horton, Yudkin and Leaning erase the biased remarks and activities of two of the authors of the Gaza “Open Letter” and repeat unverified claims of unreliable, biased NGOs. [3] In this way, this article suffers from the same failures as the Gaza letter and “Hands Off the Lancet.” [4]

The following analysis of the Yudkin and Leaning editorial examines the biases, issues, and fallacies in detail:

1. Labeling legitimate criticism and debate as an assault on free speech
Allegation: After asserting that “medicine cannot avoid politics,” the authors focus on the alleged “similarity between this complaint’s attempt to stifle coverage of the conflict in Gaza and previous examples of writing campaigns provoked by articles in medical journals critical of Israeli policies, including allegations of hyperbole, accusations of antisemitism, and threats of boycott. … Criticism of Israel, or more specifically of Israeli government policy, is not ipso facto antisemitic, and to label it as such is a tactic to stifle debate.” (emphasis added)
Response: The multiple rejections of criticism of The Lancet as an attempt to “stifle” or silence debate suggest that no criticism is possible – in itself, a tactic to silence debate on the numerous failings identified in this publication. Issues such as violation of ethical codes, false and unscientific articles, lack of independent peer review, and political crusading are central to this debate. Furthermore, evidence of repeated violations by the editor of The Lancet is documented in detail and extends far beyond the 2014 Gaza letter. [5] Instead of addressing the evidence, Yudkin and Leaning seek to silence the messengers. Their tendentious effort to label “Concerned Academics” as representing the so-called “Israel lobby” is in itself an attempt to stifle criticism.

2. Reliance on unverifiable and biased evidentiary claims
Allegation: “Reports on the conflict from OCHA, Physicians for Human Rights—Israel, B’Tselem, and Amnesty International all concur that the July letter’s allegations of disproportionality in civilian deaths and injuries and of targeting residential areas, schools, power and water treatment plants, and medical facilities and staff were probably not overstated.”
Response: Yudkin and Leaning seek to defend the veracity of the claims in the Gaza letter referencing UN-OCHA and a number of highly politicized NGOs, including Defense for Children International- Palestine, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I), B’Tselem and Amnesty International. Detailed research shows that these organizations are not credible sources and do not employ appropriate methodologies. [6] Their reports are speculative, methodologically flawed, and systematically biased.
For instance, PHR-I's “fact finding mission” (FFM) comprised multiple members that participate in anti-Israel political advocacy. [7] The report’s biased mandate called for the investigation of “the health and human rights impact of events in the Gaza Strip,” with no mention of Israelis. Unsurprisingly, the FFM “had no access to evidence regarding the conduct of Palestinian armed combatants within Gaza… beyond what its members were told by interviewees,” (emphasis added) emphasizing the research façade. [8]

3. Authors’ Conflicts of interest
Allegation: In response to the fact that the authors of the infamous Gaza letter did not declare basic conflicts of interest, Yudkin and Leaning similarly accuse critics of The Lancet of such conflicts, such as membership in “the Israeli lobby.”
Response: First, Yudkin and Leaning fail to provide any evidence that critics of The Lancet are pro-Israel lobby groups.
Second, Yudkin and Leaning are not unbiased by any standard. They also acknowledge some conflicts – Yudkin is a “member of the steering group of the Lancet Palestine Health Alliance and a signatory of Jews for Justice for Palestinians… sponsorship of an annual IHMEC-Lancet lecture and essay prize.” Leaning “is a collaborator of the Lancet Palestine Health Alliance … She was a member of the …mission …coordinated by Physicians for Human Rights—Israel.” (emphasis added).
Notably absent is mention of Yudkin’s active membership in “Hands Off the Lancet” . [9] Indeed, the arguments presented in Yudkin’s editorial are similar to the rhetoric and attacks of that group.

4. Antisemitism
Allegation: As highlighted above, Yudkin and Leaning accuse critics of The Lancet of inappropriately raising the issue of antisemitism in the context of the Gaza letter.
Response: These assertions trivialize antisemitism and pretend that systematic demonization of Israel, false claims using terms such as “war crimes,” and double standards could not possibly involve antisemitic themes and motives. [10]
In this way, Yudkin and Leaning erase the bias of Manduca and Swee Ang (two of the authors of the Gaza letter), including their endorsement of a David Duke-produced video. [11] No discussion of these issues can be credible without these core elements, as published in The Telegraph, as well as numerous extreme statements made by some of these authors. [12]

More importantly, referring to an amorphous “Israel lobby” is reminiscent of classical antisemitic themes and tropes.
Allegation: “It is possible to be a non-Jew or Jew (or in the case of one of the authors, Jewish) and to oppose Israeli actions or policies without being antisemitic. One former medical journal editor… believes that ‘the best way to blunt the effectiveness of this type of bullying is to expose it to public scrutiny.’”
Response: Claims regarding religious and ethnic backgrounds are irrelevant and inappropriate. Similarly, the reference to “bullying” can be, in itself, a form of bullying and intimidation.
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1. John S. Yudkin and Jennifer Leaning, “Politics, medical journals, the medical profession and the Israel lobby,” The British Medical Journal, May 12, 2015, http://www.bmj.com/content/350/bmj.h2377.

2. “Complaint to Reed Elsevier, Publishers of The Lancet,” Concerned Academics for Editorial Ethics, March 31, 2015, http://concernedacademics.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Complaint-to-Re....

3. “The Lancet as a Political Platform for Ngos: Study of Articles on Palestinian and Israeli Health Care 2001 – 2014,” NGO Monitor, January 15, 2015, https://www.google.co.il/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rj.... ;

4. Paola Manduca et al, “An open letter for the people in Gaza,” The Lancet, July 23, 2014, http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(14)61044-8/fulltext.

4. “Hands Off the Lancet” is a coalition of pro-Horton doctors, committed to defending both him and The Lancet from legitimate criticism and shielding them from debate. Their letter attacking “Concerned Academics” is available at http://handsoffthelancet.com/.

5. “The Lancet as a Political Platform for Ngos: Study of Articles on Palestinian and Israeli Health Care 2001 – 2014,” NGO Monitor, January 15, 2015, https://www.google.co.il/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rj....

6. “Written statement submitted by the Amuta for NGO Responsibility, a non-governmental organization in special consultative status,” United Nations Human Rights Council, August 28, 2014, http://ngo-monitor.org/data/images/File/UN_Issues%20Related%20to%20UNOCH....
“Another Amnesty Gaza Report Fails All Credibility Tests,” NGO Monitor, November 5, 2014, http://www.ngo-monitor.org/article/another_amnesty_gaza_report_fails_all....
“Preliminary Critique Of PHR-I "Independent Medical Fact-Finding Mission," NGO Monitor, January 21, 2015, http://www.ngo-monitor.org/article/preliminary_critique_of_phr_i_s_indep....
“Emotion, Not Law: A Critical Reading of B’tselem’s ‘Black Flag’ Report,” NGO Monitor, February 1, 2015, http://www.ngo-monitor.org/article/emotion_not_law_a_critical_reading_of....

7. “Physicians for Human Rights-Israel Gaza Mission: No Independence, No Facts, No Evidence,” NGO Monitor, February 1, 2015, http://www.ngo-monitor.org/article/physicians_for_human_rights_israel_ga....

8. “Findings of an Independent Medical Fact-Finding Mission: Gaza 2014,” Physicians for Human Rights- Israel et al, https://gazahealthattack.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/gazareport_eng.pdf.

9. “Response to the Complaint to Reed Elsevier, Publishers of the Lancet,bBy Professor Sir Mark Pepys and 395 Colleagues,” Hands Off the Lancet, April 15, 2015, http://handsoffthelancet.com/. ;
“Analysis of the “Hands Off The Lancet” Statement,” NGO Monitor, May 3, 2015, http://www.ngo-monitor.org/article/analysis_of_the_hands_off_the_lancet_....

10. See the UK Parliament’s ”Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism,” available at http://www.antisemitism.org.uk/wp-content/themes/PCAA/images/4189_PCAA_A....

11. Jake Wallis Simons, “Lancet 'hijacked in anti-Israel campaign',” The Telegraph, September 22, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/11112930/Lancet-hijacked-in-....

12. “Medical Aid for Palestinians: Politicizing Medicine, Inflaming Conflict,” NGO Monitor, March 15, 2015, http://www.ngo-monitor.org/article/medical_aid_for_palestinians_politici....

Competing interests: Professor Steinberg is a signatory for "Concerned Academics for Editorial Edits."

26 May 2015
Yona Schiffmiller
Researcher for NGO Monitor
Professor Gerald Steinberg, President of NGO Monitor
Jerusalem, Israel