In early 2000, I read the newsletter of the American Anthropological Association and was surprised to see an essay by Jeff Halper, who founded the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. The essay was biased in every way: selective in evidence, slanted in language, naïve in reasoning. In preparing my reply I searched the web and found that for every one balanced entry on Israel’s position, there were perhaps 20 negative entries. Many were stridently rejectionist and anti-Semitic; those that were not betrayed woeful ignorance or frank silliness about the Middle East. My reply was published and the editor asked if I would countenance a reply from Halper and perhaps a dialogue. I agreed. Halper never replied, suggesting that he could not face argument informed by facts. This was my introduction to the politicized world of the academic Middle East.
Since then I have narrowed my focus to anti-Israel bias in the public health and academic medical literature, which is monitored by the SPME Public Health and Medical Task Force. There is no shortage of bias in this field. Key British journals, such as Lancet and the British Medical Journal, devote major resources to academic partnerships and journalistic coverage designed to show Israeli policy is responsible for poor health, limited hospital access, and psychological trauma in the occupied territories. In fact, the evidence suggests that health is not poorer in the territories and that people do have access to hospitals. It also true that Israelis suffer poor mental health in war. These inconvenient facts, now published in 2 letters in BMJ and 4 in Lancet, help, we hope, in stemming the tide of 60 years of anti-Israel propaganda, which has finally managed to make its way into academic medical research.
The Task Force continues to monitor and respond to the most egregious instances of bias in the most prominent journals. It consists of 5-10 academics across the globe, from Israel to the UK to the US, who take the time to respond to such falsehoods. We are pleased to see that most journals are willing to admit fault and publish our work. Our monitoring has led to one journal retracting a bad piece of science and to others publishing corrections.
In this effort, we have also crossed paths with virulent anti-Semites, such as the one who wrote me privately and said he would never accept Zionist facts. Others are more subtle. But at heart these critics cannot admit that the medical and public health record of Israel simply does not support their claims of a terrorist, racist, imperial regime. So they make stories up or simply ignore statistics from the UN, WHO, and other international medical organizations.
Facts and reasoned argument support the claims of Israel and can be used to undo the propaganda of its enemies. But we need to marshal this evidence and face the false claims directly. The biggest challenge here is time. The members of the Public Health and Medical Task Force all have day jobs. I run a major research effort on aging, chronic disease, and health promotion. My colleagues are similarly busy with academic medicine, psychological research, bioethics, and other areas. Still, we take time from these efforts to play a small but important part in ferreting out propaganda that may bias others less informed about Israel and the Middle East.