Exploiting Medicine for the Politics of Hate
JNS.org – How credible are accusations about military tactics made by medical professionals who double as political activists? Not very credible, as recent outrage directed at The Lancet suggests. The British medical journal unethically politicized medicine when it published “An open letter for the people in Gaza,” providing scientific veneer to condemnation of Israel and its defensive actions in Gaza.
The letter—written by Drs. Mads Gilbert, Paola Manduca, and Swee Ang, all of whom are associated with highly politicized non-governmental organizations (NGOs)—accuses Israel of carrying out a propaganda campaign that “justifies the creation of an emergency to masquerade a massacre.” It makes unfounded allegations that Israel deliberately massacred civilians and uses illegal weaponry. No mention is made of Hamas, or its use of human shields. Israel’s right and obligation to defend its citizens against indiscriminate targeting by rocket fire is absent.
The article’s authors have no expertise in military law or tactics. Any sort of political, legal, or military analysis, such as an accusation of war crimes, is outside their competence. They have no evidentiary basis on which to allege that Israel is motivated by a desire to massacre civilians.
It is a wonder how anyone, let alone a highly regarded medical journal, could take these doctors as credible sources on the conflict. What we are witnessing is the “halo effect”—where NGOs perceived to promote good principles are shielded from scrutiny. Providers of medical assistance and relief enjoy an added degree of credibility, a “double halo effect,” and are rarely challenged on their biases or questioned statements’ accuracy.
This “double halo effect” was in full force for the letter writers, all of whom have extensive histories of acting as anti-Israel campaigners.
Gilbert, a Norwegian anesthesiologist is a representative of the Norwegian Aid Committee (NORWAC), an NGO that has purportedly worked with Hezbollah-affiliated groups. He politicizes his humanitarian work to the extent of legitimizing terror attacks, including a defense of 9/11. In regards to the 2009 Gaza War, Gilbert stated there was “clear evidence” that the IDF was using Dense Inert Metal Explosives (DIME) munitions. In another interview, he admitted that he had no proof concerning his earlier convictions.
Gilbert has made accusations about weaponry he admits he has no proof for, falsely accuses Israel of targeting civilians, and denies Israel’s right to defend itself.
Manduca is a geneticist with the New Weapons Committee (NWC), an organization that aims to examine weapons used in warfare. NWC has made multiple unfounded claims that about Israeli weaponry.
NWC accused Israel of “experimenting new non-conventional weapons on civilian populations” in Gaza. Manduca also accused the IDF of using “white phosphorus, DIME, thermobaric bombs, cluster bombs and uranium ammunitions” in Gaza and in Lebanon in 2006. None of these accusations have any factual support.
Swee Ang is a surgeon and founding member of Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP,) an NGO that claims to be independent and non-political, but repeatedly accuses Israel of “indiscriminate attacks“ and “collective punishment.”
Given that these authors are in no way unbiased and credible observers in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it seems unbelievable that a reputable medical journal could print such an article. But considering the political biases behind The Lancet‘s alliances with several pro-Palestinian NGOs, it is not surprising. These partnerships, which date back to at least 1996, are exacerbated by the unconcealed and virulent political agenda of editor Richard Horton. In conjunction with these NGOs, The Lancet created the Lancet-Palestinian Health Alliance, to solidify their cooperation and amplify the politicized claims and objectives.
The Lancet has since published numerous articles unrelated to medicine on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One of the most egregious examples was when The Lancet published Swee Ang’s introduction to her book, “The Wounds of Gaza,” on its Global Health Network website. Among many unfounded accusations and statements, she claimed that the IDF illegally used phosphorus shells and bombs in the 2009 Gaza War with the intent of harming civilians. Published without sources the piece was taken down a month later because of “factual inaccuracies.”
Thus, it is clear that the entirely unprofessional anti-Israeli letter published on July 23 is consistent with many other such biased articles published by The Lancet. For the medical professionals who publish in and rely on this platform for credible peer-reviewed research, this behavior strongly suggests finding another publisher.
Eliana Trink is a research intern with the Jerusalem-based research institution NGO Monitor (www.ngo-monitor.org).