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Anti-Israel Bias Infects Medical Journals

It's not just the Lancet that sees the world through Palestinianized glasses.

by
Barbara Kay

Bio

February 4, 2010 - 12:00 am

As all doctors know, untreated gangrene in a single limb can spread quickly through the body and lead to death. The most effective way to halt the progress of gangrene is to cut off the corrupting limb, a necessary sacrifice for the greater good.

As with bodies, so with scientific credibility.

As Phyllis Chesler informed us in these pages on January 24, Lancet, once an impeccable source for authoritative medical research, has in recent years become more and more “Palestinianized.” In the just-published article she cites, “Association between exposure to political violence and intimate-partner violence in the occupied Palestinian territory: a cross-sectional study,” Palestinian husbands were found to be more violent towards their wives as a function of the Israeli “occupation” — “and … the violence increases significantly when the husbands are ‘directly’ as opposed to ‘indirectly’ exposed to political violence.”

Very clever. Being a Palestinian means you get to beat your wife without having to say you’re sorry, because, hey, it’s too bad about all those bruises, but the Israelis made me do it! That the statistics were gathered and the study was funded by the Palestinian Authority should have been a clue to its lack of objectivity. This is propaganda, not research.

It isn’t only Lancet, though. Editorial views in the prestigious British Medical Journal and the Journal of the Royal College of Physicians (recently renamed Clinical Medicine) have revealed a similar pattern of anti-Israel bias.

In the February 2009 issue of Commentary (requires a login), an official organ of the Royal College of Physicians of London, for example, an inflammatory “special” article erroneously claims, amongst other falsehoods, that Palestinian physicians were prevented from traveling abroad for training and conferences. This was especially galling to Israeli medical professionals because, as Hebrew University Professor Oded Abramsky wrote in an open letter to the Royal College of Physicians: “The level of cooperation between Israeli and Gazan hospitals and medical personnel and the cross-border treatment of the ill and wounded is without question greater than between any two other entities in the world who are nominally (and sometimes actively) at war. Therefore, please keep medicine and politics separate, for the good of all, as we try to do in Israel.” An apology by the journal was later (grudgingly) issued.

To prove that bias amongst British medical research elites is systemic rather than random, a group of Israeli medical academics, led by Prof. Yehuda Shoenfeld, editor-in-chief of the Israeli Medical Association Journal, assessed coverage of conflict-related deaths around the world.

Their study analyzed citations in the British Medical Journal, a wholly owned subsidiary of the British Medical Association, finding that: for Europeans killing Europeans (Bosnia), there was one citation for every 2,000 deaths; for Africans killing Africans (Rwanda), one citation for every 4,000 deaths; for Arabs killing black Africans (Darfur), one citation for every 7,000 deaths; for Arab Muslims killing Kurds, no citation whatsoever; yet, for Israelis killing Palestinians, one citation for every 13 deaths.

The Brits aren’t alone in their politicization of science. But because of the long ancestry of their journals and the reflexive respect they command, the British organs are looked up to as role models; when they allow ideology to trump accuracy and objectivity, they give encouragement to insalubrious elements in other research entities.

And so now the gangrene is everywhere, even in my own backyard. Canadian scientific scholarship is generally widely respected and used to be entirely credible. But as early as 2004 the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry published an article, “Prevalence of Psychological Morbidity in West Bank Palestinian Children,” whose thrust is to blame the Israeli occupation for the psychological problems of Palestinian children. The methodology is transparently shoddy and no attempt is made to obscure the partisanship governing the focus. Any objective study would have sought to compare data about the suffering of Israeli children under constant threat of (and actual) terrorism. Worse, from a scientific point of view, not a single one of the authors is academically accredited in psychology or psychiatry. It took months before a letter of rebuttal was accepted for publication. By then the damage was done.

It’s too bad these medical journals don’t choose to highlight the amazing medical benefits Israel has brought to Palestinians. As detailed in a May 30, 2009, study by U.S. medical researchers Ted H. Tulchinsky et al., Palestinians in the territories boast the lowest age- and sex-standardized mortality rate per 100,000 of all Middle Eastern Arab populations. Since 1972 immunization coverage in the territories has reached 99%. Polio and measles have been eradicated. Life expectancy rose from 54 in 1970 to 73 in 2007. Major sanitation and disease-control projects have reduced morbidity and hospital admissions.

And of Israeli and North American doctors giving of their time and expertise to improve the medical lot of Palestinians, there seems to be no end. Some Toronto heart surgeons, to cite but one shining example, 10 years ago founded a strictly non-political, non-sectarian group called Save a Child’s Heart (SACH), whose motto is “mending hearts, building bridges.” Headquartered at Woolfson Hospital in Tel Aviv, with satellite offices in the U.S., the UK, and Germany, SACH has operated on 2,100 children from 35 different countries at a cost of about $10,000 per child. Almost half of them are from neighboring Arab countries, including the West Bank, of course. Money raised by SACH also goes to train foreign medical teams. During the Gazan conflict, an infant nephew of the Hamas minister of defense was brought in for urgent heart surgery.

Why don’t Lancet and the others choose to write the good medical news about Israel? They could start with Israel’s stellar performance following the recent earthquake in Haiti, where by all accounts the Israeli field hospital and human and material resources rose head and shoulders over every other country’s.

If the medical profession were a human body, any objective doctor would issue the obvious warning that if it wants to thrive — in academic terms, to be taken seriously by real scholars — it must cut off the gangrenous anti-Israel limb that has already turned black and stinks to high heaven.

Time is running out. Physicians, heal thyselves.

Barbara Kay is a weekly columnist in the comment pages of Canada’s National Post newspaper.
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