On April 15, 2015, a group calling itself “Hands Off the Lancet” published a statement in response to intense criticism of The Lancet from “Concerned Academics for Editorial Ethics.” Over 700 physicians have signed the “Concerned Academics” petition, calling for The Lancet to retract its “Open Letter for the People of Gaza” and offer an official apology. Among other issues, this publication referred to Israel’s actions during the 2014 Summer conflict as “the creation of an emergency to masquerade a massacre,” and a number of the authors are core members of the Lancet-Palestinian Health Alliance. As documented by NGO Monitor, in response to the criticism, Lancet editor Richard Horton came to Israel and published a statement in which he regretted the polarizing impact of the letter, but Horton has rejected demands for an apology and retraction.
1. Conflicts of interest
The leading individuals behind the “Hands Off the Lancet” statement include three (Drs. Gilbert, Chalmers, and Summerfield) of the five main authors of the The Lancet’s “Open Letter for the People of Gaza.” Another primary signatory of “Hands Off the Lancet,” Prof. Rita Giacaman from Bir Zeit University, is a central participant in the Lancet-Palestinian Health Alliance. These clear conflicts of interest are not disclosed, in violation of ethical principles.
- In addition, although one of the major critiques of the The Lancet regarding the Gaza letter focuses on blatant conflicts of interest, the statement by “Hands Off the Lancet” largely ignores this central point. According to Concerned Academics, the Gaza letter “by Manduca et al contains false assertions, … while deliberately concealing the grossest possible conflicts of interest of its authors…” (emphasis added). The response from “Hands Off the Lancet” is limited to the assertion that Manduca et al “denied any financial conflicts of interests” and a quote from former editor of the British Medical Journal (BMJ), Dr. Richard Smith, who claimed that “the authors failed to declare competing interests and two of them had acted in an objectionable but not illegal way.”
- Furthermore, “Hands Off the Lancet” erases the statement by The Lancet Ombudsman in response to criticism of the Gaza letter calling for reform of editorial process as a result of these conflicts of interest: “As experienced contributors to the medical and scientific literature, the authors should have been aware of the need to disclose, at submission, any financial or other relationships that could be perceived to affect their work. I understand that The Lancet does not routinely collect International Committee of Medical Journal Editors forms about authors’ competing interests for items of correspondence prior to publication, and I will be recommending that the editors put a policy in place to rectify this as soon as possible.” (emphasis added)
2. Misrepresenting the promotion of antisemitism
- According to Hands Off the Lancet: “The article in The Telegraph [referencing a September media report] also alleged that two of the authors of the Open letter – one of them Chinese – have sympathies with the views of “an American white supremacist” (Simons, 2014), following the mistaken forwarding of emails, for which both individuals subsequently apologised.” (emphasis added)
- “Hands Off the Lancet” clearly misrepresents the active support of both Swee Ang and Manduca for an antisemitic video produced by David Duke. As documented by NGO Monitor,Swee Ang wrote in her email, “This is shocking video please watch. (sic) This is not about Palestine – it is about all of us!” The email also contained, in bold red lettering, “SEE THIS VIDEO BEFORE IT IS REMOVED FROM CIRCULATION – Please do pass on to others who you think would be interested and would pass on>>>The whole world needs to know.” Manduca forwarded Swee Ang’s email to the Italian Google group Sempre Contro la Guerra.
- Swee Ang “apologized” for promoting the video by saying the following: “I didn’t know who David Duke was, or that he was connected to the Ku Klux Klan. I am concerned that if there is any truth in the video, that Jews control the media, politics and banking, what on earth is going on? I was worried.” This shows that she knowingly and intentionally promoted the video, and sympathized with its main message. (emphasis added)
- When Paola Manduca was questioned about her promotion of this antisemitic video, she responded, “I legitimately use my right of freedom of opinion and do not agree or value the politics of the government of Israel, nor of many others, including Jews in and out of Israel.”
The “Hands Off the Lancet” statement also makes no mention of Dr. Mads Gilbert’s justification of terrorism (specifically regarding 9/11), thus further de-contextualizing the criticism of “Concerned Academics.”(Criticism of Mads Gilbert published in the Norwegian media here.)
3. Demonizing legitimate and important criticism as an assault on free speech
- “The heavy-handed attempt to force The Lancet to withdraw the Open letter is the latest in a series of attempts to stifle media coverage of the Israel-Palestine issue and should be resisted.” (emphasis added)
- “The long history of pro-Israel suppression of medical freedom of expression” (Title of a full section of the response – emphasis added)
The use of the term “pro-Israel” and the allegation of suppression emphasize the ideological and political bias and agenda of the Hands Off the Lancet group. In addition, we note the attempt to justify the Gaza letter by referring to Jewish identification of authors and supporters,
- “…although at least one of the authors of the ‘Open Letter’ was Jewish…”
- “One of the letters published in response to the ‘Open Letter’ was co-authored by seven Jewish health professionals in South Africa.” (emphasis added)
4. Repeating a false narrative of the 2014 conflict
- “Israel began a major military assault on the Gaza Strip, the fourth in eight years.” In “Hands of the Lancet,” the Chronology of Events begins with Israel’s military operation and makes no mention of Hamas acts of terrorism, including launching thousands of rockets at civilian targets, infiltrating Israel, and kidnapping and murdering innocent civilians.
- There is also no mention of Hamas or any other Palestinian terrorist organization that was involved in the 2014 conflict.
- “Hands Off the Lancet” makes false and unverified claims about Israel’s use of force and the types of weaponry deployed.
5. Repeating efforts to justify publication of the Gaza “Open Letter” as the result of chaos
- “Given the shocking images and statistics reported from Gaza at the time, the use by Manduca and colleagues of emotive language, in description of the ‘massacre in Gaza’ for example, can be understood.” (emphasis added)
- “In summary the letter by Manduca and co-authors was published at a time of great tension, violence and loss of life. Given these circumstances the letter’s shortcomings can be understood, as a measure of balance has been achieved by the publication of further letters from both sides of the debate.” (emphasis added)
Among the justifications provided by Horton is the claim that he decided to publish the Gaza letter “at a moment of unbearable human destruction.” The above quotes by the Lancet Ombudsman advance the same argument.
6. Basing statistics and descriptions on sources that lack credibility
- “In the light of reports by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations and others…”
Hands off the Lancet repeats claims published by Physicians for Human Rights- Israel (PHR-I), Amnesty International, HRW and B’Tselem. NGO Monitor research clearly demonstrates that these organizations maintain a strong anti-Israel bias and their reports are rife with inaccuracies and problematic methodology.