After pressure from pro-Israel group, Scientific American removes health care workers’ op-ed calling for boycott

| Michael Arria pour Mondoweiss |

The Scientific American has removed a piece calling for solidarity with Palestinians from its website after being pressured by pro-Israel groups.

On June 2nd the magazine published “As Health Care Workers, We Stand in Solidarity with Palestine.” The op-ed, which was written by a group of physicians and medical students, detailed Israel’s recent atrocities and pledged support for the BDS movement.

“Those of us who work in health care understand well that health care does not exist in a vacuum,” read the article. “We increasingly understand how structural forces, systematized and institutionalized oppression, racism, violence, disinvestment and displacement, as well as policies meant to deny people their basic human rights, lead to adverse health outcomes and mortality. We cannot continue to sit idly by and witness the violent erasure of an entire people by what is, as documented by international human rights organizations, an apartheid state, exacting untold physical and psychological damage to the Palestinian people.”

Drs. Stanley Robboy and Robert Gutman (board members at Voice4Israel for North Carolina) and Dr. Edward Halperin (Chancellor and CEO of New York Medical College) immediately wrote the magazine a letter, accusing the publication of “one-sided political propaganda.” It was signed by over one hundred people in the medical field.

According to Voice4Israel, Scientific American’s Editor-in-Chief Laura Helmuth caved in within a matter of hours. She agreed to remove the article and said the publication was revising its internal review process “to prevent a repetition of this error by the magazine.” The URL that formerly housed the article now brings readers to a message explaining that the op-ed “fell outside the scope” of the website.

In a Twitter thread one of the op-ed’s authors, Qaali Hussein, speculated that the BDS call is what led to the piece’s removal. “It’s extremely ironic that the methods of BDS, a nonviolent tool used to end oppression which some claim is ‘problematic,’ are the same tools used to pressure scientific journals to violate academic freedom and allow censorship,” tweeted the trauma surgeon.

“We stand by every word of our letter,” she continued. “As we’ve said before, ‘we affirm that health is a universal human right, including for the Palestinian people, and that the time for silence has long passed. Silence, from this point forward, is complicity.’ #StopCensoringPalestine”

This certainly isn’t the first time that members of the medical community have faced censorship over their views on Israel. In March 2020, The Lancet published a letter warning of a potential COVID outbreak in Gaza and explaining how Israel’s policy toward the region was set to exacerbate the looming calamity.

That letter was removed within three days after a similar campaign from pro-Israel groups and pro-Israel voices in the medical field. Editor-in-chief Richard Horton told the authors that the publication had also been targeted over a 2014 piece criticizing Israel’s human rights violations and that they couldn’t sustain another coordinated attack.

“The cohort of doctors attempting to actively threaten and censor any critical writing on Palestinian health today enjoy respect in their fields,” wrote the authors of the letter. “They come primarily from settler colonial societies, including Israel, the United States, Canada, and Australia, and are regularly granted platforms in academic journals to ‘balance’ out the truth about Israel’s oppressive policies. The logic is that there are ‘two sides’ to any story involving Palestinian health, and thus equal weight must be given both. What this approach disregards, however, is the profound power differential that inevitably sustains settler colonial myth while concealing the experiences of the colonized.”