Lancet editor praised for rejecting anti-Israel bias

Dr. Richard Horton (Wikimedia Commons/Russavia/public domain)

Five years ago, Richard Horton, the editor-in-chief of the Lancet, one of the best-known and most prestigious medical journals in the world, was the subject of a petition that called for him to be fired.

Started by Doctors Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (DARA), a Toronto-based group that words to uphold human rights in medicine and academia, the petition called for Horton’s dismissal for publishing an open letter in which the authors denounced “what we witness in the aggression of Gaza by Israel.”

According to DARA’s petition, the article was “rife with political propaganda, one-sided and factually inaccurate” information, and was part of what DARA believed was a history of anti-Israel bias in the journal.

Five years later, at DARA’s annual general meeting at Adath Israel Congregation in Toronto on Oct. 23, the group reported that, after years of sustained advocacy, Horton and the Lancet are beginning to shift their stances with regards to Israel, and also address issues of anti-Semitism.

“Due to combined, protracted efforts by us and several other organizations, this situation has unbelievably been reversed. Richard Horton is now calling for the introduction of Holocaust studies in the curriculum of health professionals,” said DARA chair Leon Kadish.

Kadish was standing next to a PowerPoint slide of one of Horton’s articles, and pointed out that it ended by saying that including the Holocaust in the curriculum “could do much to vanquish the evil that is anti-Semitism.”

“These words were actually inconceivable just a few months ago. He has more recently written very positively about the Israeli medical system. The provision of medical services in Israel is now being portrayed in a much more balanced fashion by the Lancet. Years of unrelenting pressure on Horton and the Lancet have finally paid off,” Kadish said.

The transition began when Horton visited Israel at the invitation of the Rambam hospital in Haifa, shortly after the Lancet published the open letter. According to a DARA newsletter from May 2017, Horton met staff from the hospital, including many Arab-Israeli staff, as well as patients from Israel, the Palestinian territories and victims of the war in Syria.

After his trip, Horton apologized for the Gaza article and announced that the journal would publish a full series on Israeli health care.

The results are in, and the articles alternate between full-blown praise to reasonable critique,” reads the 2017 DARA newsletter. “Bottom line: Israel is treated like any other country – which is as it should be.”

Another DARA newsletter from November 2018 said Horton and the Lancet were continuing on the path of treating Israel like any other country. Earlier that month, Horton had published an article titled, The Health Of Palestinians Is A Global Responsibility, in response to a report the World Health Organization published about the health-care challenges facing people living in the Palestinian territories.

Horton included a response from Israeli health-care workers and said that it warranted “serious consideration.” He also ended the article by saying that the health professionals and researchers he knows in the Palestinian territories and Israel are “inspiring individuals who have devoted their lives and careers to protecting and strengthening the health of their communities. They want peace. They want justice. It is time to consider how we work more closely together in the common cause of healthy lives for all.”

DARA praised the tone Horton took in the article, writing in its newsletters that, “No one will mistake Horton for a pro-Israel advocate. But he hardly needs to fill that role. All we request from Richard Horton is a fair shake. Since his trip to Israel in 2014, Horton has taken the first steps along that path.”