Op-Ed: Academic Lies in the Cognitive War Against Israel
Jews have been accused of harming and murdering non-Jews since the twelfth century in England, when Jewish convert to Catholicism, Theobald of Cambridge, mendaciously announced that European Jews ritually slaughtered Christian children each year and drank their blood during Passover season.
That medieval blood libel, largely abandoned in the contemporary West, does, however, still appear as part of Arab world’s vilification of Jews—now transmogrified into a slander against Israel, the Jew of nations. But in the regular chorus of defamation against Israel by a world infected with Palestinianism, a new, more odious trend has begun to show itself: the blood libel has been revivified; however, to position Israel (and by extension Jews) as demonic agents in the community of nations, the primitive fantasies of the blood libel are now masked with a veneer of academic scholarship and published as politicized scientific study.
Just this month, for example, the British medical journal Lancet further degraded its academic respectability and credibility by publishing something entitled “An open letter for the people in Gaza,” signed by 24 doctors and scientists. In the language of propaganda and politics—as opposed to the reasoned language of science and academically-based inquiry—the signers had as their purpose “denouncing what we witness in the aggression of Gaza by Israel.”
These doctors and scientists, none of whom has had to live under an unceasing barrage of more than 10,000 rockets and mortars launched from Gaza into Israel, nevertheless denounced what they see as “the perversity of [Israel’s] propaganda that justifies the creation of an emergency to masquerade a massacre, a so-called ‘defensive aggression.’” Instead, the signers believe there is no basis for Israel’s self-defense, that it is actually no more than “a ruthless assault of unlimited duration, extent, and intensity” and an “unacceptable pretext of Israel eradicating political parties and resistance to the occupation and siege they impose.”
“The massacre in Gaza spares no one,” the letter continued in its hyperbolic, not factual, tones, and, according to the signers, “these attacks aim to terrorise [sic], wound the soul and the body of the people, and make their life impossible in the future, as well as also demolishing their homes and prohibiting the means to rebuild.”
Of course, there is no mention of the Palestinian’s complicity in their own situation, no reference to the nine years of genocidal aggression by Hamas since Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, no examination of the failure of Palestinian Arab leadership to even attempt to start building a civil society and functioning government. Every pathology and failure, including the health and well-being of the entire Gazan society, is the fault of Israel—as a result of its siege, its blockade, its oppression, and its current incursion to suppress Hamas rocket attacks.
“In Gaza,” the letter continued, “people suffer from hunger, thirst, pollution, shortage of medicines, electricity, and any means to get an income, not only by
The primitive fantasies of the blood libel are now masked with a veneer of academic scholarship and published as politicized scientific study.
being bombed and shelled.” And inverting cause and effect, the signers then make the breathtaking claim that Hamas terrorism is a tool for creating a viable Palestinian state, that Hamas rejected a truce not because they are dedicated to extirpating Israel and murdering Jews, but simply because “People in Gaza are resisting this aggression because they want a better and normal life and, even while crying in sorrow, pain, and terror, they reject a temporary truce that does not provide a real chance for a better future.”
This is not a scientific report at all, but a politicized, subjective screed designed to demonize Israel and assign total blame for a very complex political and military conflict that is well beyond the expertise of these particular individuals. That it was written by intellectuals in the West in the thralls of Palestinianism is not surprising or particularly unusual, especially in the wake of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge to protect its citizens from being murdered. What is troubling, however, is that a formerly-reputable journal such as Lancet is now being exploited as vehicle for flabby research and specious science in the pursuit of political ends.
This is not the first time that Lancet has strayed in this pseudo-academic manner. The entire so-called “occupation” has also become a target for scientists who attempt to link the general oppression by Israel with a host of pathologies in Palestinian Arab society.
Several years ago, feminist scholar Phyllis Chesler critiqued a particularly egregious example of politicized scholarship in a paper published in Lancet. Chesler noted that the article, with the biased title of “Association between exposure to political violence and intimate-partner violence in the occupied Palestinian territory: a cross-sectional study,” revealed “that Palestinian husbands are more violent towards Palestinian wives as a function of the Israeli ‘occupation’— and that the violence increases significantly when the husbands are ‘directly’ as opposed to ‘indirectly’ exposed to political violence.”
The study, of course, never chose to examine the effect of the conflict on Israeli husbands and wives, who may well share similar emotional stresses to their Palestinian counterparts as a result of the genocidal aggression against them from various jihadist foes, and instead, according to Chesler, attempted “to present Palestinian men as victims even when (or precisely because) those men are battering their wives,” defining “Palestinian cultural barbarism, which includes severe child abuse, as also related to the alleged Israeli occupation.”
The cultural traditions in the Middle East which enable men to totally dominate family members, treat women as property, and even commit “honor” killings when women shame male family members—all of these, of course, are not included in the emotional equation which might logically lead or contribute to spousal abuse. It is the Israeli occupation, and that alone, that causes such deleterious mental health conditions, “intimate partner violence,” in Palestinian marriages. Perhaps a better title for the specious article would have been, “The occupation made me beat my wife.”
In 2010, to cite another instance of this trend, the findings of a study conducted by the New Weapons Research Group (Nwrg), a team of scientists based in Italy, were announced on “the use of unconventional weapons and their mid-term effects on the population of after-war areas,” in this case Gaza after Israel’s “Cast Lead” incursion in 2008-09. “Many Palestinian children still living in precarious situations at ground level in Gaza after Israeli bombing,” the study found, “have unusually high concentrations of metals in the hair, indicating environmental contamination, which can cause health and growth damages due to chronic exposure,” and these high levels were the direct result of Israeli bombs.
Moreover, suggested Professor Paola Manduca, spokesperson for this study and another principal signer of the Gaza open letter, the presence of metals in children’s hair “presents serious problems in the current situation in Gaza, where the construction and removal of damaged structures is difficult or impossible, and,” in case anyone does not know who to blame, “certainly represents the major responsibility of those who should remedy the damage to the civilian population under international law.”
Environmental contamination of children is certainly a critical issue to address and identify, but questions arise from this particular study due to the shabby way the controls and research were conducted. Was it actually Israeli weaponry that contributed to high metal levels in the hair of the studied group? Are those levels significantly different in Gaza, or do they parallel other high-density cities with refineries, smelters, and other form of pollutants that arise from other, non-military sources? Was the same group of subjects tested prior to Operation Cast Lead to see changes in the incidence of metals in hair after the incursion? Were groups in other towns, which had not been bombed, tested as well, and how do those levels compare with the test group?
Another principal signer of the Gaza letter, and frequent contributor to Lancet, is Iain Chalmers, a medical researcher and member of the Lancet-Palestinian Health Alliance (LPHA), an initiative between the journal and the group Medical Aid for Palestinians. Not surprisingly, the 2013 Lancet edition had a one-sided feature focusing on “the direct and indirect health effects of the Israeli occupation and conflict.” Chalmers is a defamer of Israel, who was gleeful about a Lancet cover that used the term Palestine, saying, “ . . . it’s one way in which the Zionists have failed. They have not stopped the use of the word ‘Palestine’ or ‘Palestinian.’ They have control in so many different domains. This is one that they cannot suppress.”
A third signer of the Gaza open letter was Derek Summerfield, a vitriolic maligner of Israel who has supported efforts to boycott Israeli physicians from attending medical conferences. In a 2008 interview in Al Ahram he described the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict as “the most awful crime has been played out down there by a colonial power that considered itself part of Europe. They were grabbing Palestinians' land and torturing them in ways that were reminiscent of South Africa but, as it turns out, far, far worse than South Africa.”
Summerfield has also suggested, as he did in the British Medical Journal in an article entitled “Palestine: The Assault on Health and Other War Crimes,” that Israel is a morally malignant regime which capriciously murders Arabs with no justification. Like other haters of the Jewish state, he also has suggested that Israelis exploit the Holocaust as a means of distracting their misdeeds towards the Palestinian Arabs, that, as Summerfield sardonically put it, “Israel continues to play the Holocaust story and anti-Semitism as a way of blocking the truth.”
The principal signer of the Gaza open letter is Norwegian anesthesiologist and perennial Israel-hater, Mads Gilbert. A political activist and member of the fringe Norwegian Maoist ‘Red’ party, Gilbert is also a supporter of the Palestinian solidarity movement. While not giving biased medical commentary to the media during the various Gaza incursions, he also has apologized for and gave tacit approval to the 9/11 attacks in New York, saying in an interview that “The attack on New York did not come as a surprise after the policy that the West has led during the last decades . . . The oppressed also have a moral right to attack the USA with any weapon they can come up with,” and that while “terror is a bad weapon,” he supported a terror attack against the United States “within the context which I [had] mentioned.”
Interviewed by Iran’s Press TV in 2009, Gilbert announced, without conclusive proof, that, “We have clear evidence that the Israelis are using a new type of very high explosive weapons which are called Dense Inert Metal Explosives which is made out of a Tungsten alloy. These weapons have an enormous power to explode.” Though he moderated his opinion somewhat in the absence of any proof that his opinion about Israel’s use of weapons was even valid, he did use Lancet to repeat the calumny. “These are scenes out of Dante’s Inferno,” he said. “Many arrive with extreme amputations, with both legs crushed, [and what] I suspect are wounds inflicted by very powerful explosives called Dime [Dense Inert Metal Explosive].” Once again, a scientific journal published unsubstantiated and highly-biased articles, whose principal purpose seems to be to further malign Israel.
When brutal military assaults and Israel’s use of weaponry cannot be blamed for causing health damage to non-Jews, Israel-haters are quick to condemn the general oppression of Zionist occupation and brutality as detriments to Arab health and happiness. In 2005, Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR) took it upon themselves to “condemn the Israeli Army's use of psychological warfare against the Gaza population.” Through the use of Israeli F-16 jet plane-generated “sonic booms” that, according to PsySR, are a “particularly pernicious form of psychological warfare.”
While they begrudgingly admit that the reason jet soirees were initiated against the Gazan population in the first place was the hundreds of rockets that had been raining down on Israeli neighborhoods in southern Israel, the psychologists’ concern never seemed to extend to Jewish children (75-94 percent of whom, living in Sderot and between the ages of 4-18, as one example, exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder), nor did they call for an end to the terrorism that Israeli military operations were attempting to curtail. But the sonic booms, nevertheless, were unacceptable.
Other scholarly publications have been intellectually hijacked with spurious studies that have a fundamental bias to them that discredits the validity of any research. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, for example, ran an article entitled “The prevalence of psychological morbidity in West Bank Palestinian children,” written, oddly enough, by a junior surgical resident and a microbiologist.
When members of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), an organization of academics seeking balance in discussion of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, became aware of this bit of defective scholarship, they analyzed the paper themselves and found that it was an example of “weak science, which included the lack of evidence or references, the lack of appropriate scientific design, the choice of nonstandardized test instruments and the inaccurate citing of the psychological literature.” What is more, the authors’ original thesis, “that ‘settlement encroachment’ was responsible for the problems of Palestinian children,” had relied on the psychiatric “expertise” of linguist Noam Chomsky, whose loathing of Israel is widely known, to help draw the study’s conclusions.
Supporters of the Palestinian cause have come to accept the fact that Israel will not be defeated through the use of traditional tools of warfare. Instead, the Jewish state’s enemies in the Middle East, abetted by their supporters in the West, have begun to use different, but equally dangerous, tactics to delegitimize and eventually destroy Israel in a cognitive war. By dressing up old hatreds against Jews, combined with a loathing of Israel, and repackaging them as seemingly pure scholarship, Israel’s ideological foes have found an effective, but odious, way to insure that the Jew of nations, Israel, is still accused of fostering social chaos and bringing harm to non-Jews—in the bright “lights of perverted science” Winston Churchill feared might well be unleashed by a Nazi victory in the Second World War.
Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., is President of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and the author of Genocidal Liberalism: The University’s Jihad Against Israel & Jews.