BMJ’s Selective Editing

The tragic story of Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian obstetrician and gynecologist whose three daughters and niece were killed by Israeli fire during the Gaza conflict, featured prominently in Israeli and world media at the time and subsequently.

To recall, Dr Abuelaish, fluent in Hebrew, worked in Israel’s Tel Hashomer Hospital and advocated for peace and coexistence. Even after his terrible personal loss, Dr Abuelaish has continued to promote coexistence and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

As the British Medical Journal’s online feature on Abuelaish stated:

Even before the interview began it was clear that his warmth for Israelis was still intact. A few moments before getting into the taxi he saw a pregnant Israeli woman, and although he was in a hurry he stopped to ask her when she was due and how the pregnancy was going.

The article describes Abuelaish’s plans to create a foundation to enable women from the Middle East to attend university and for an academic campus located in Gaza. It concludes:

Dr Abuelaish is also raising funds for an Israeli institution. At the end of January he will travel to Germany to seek money to build a conference facility at Sheba Medical Center, near Tel Aviv, where he used to work. He envisages a project that will be named in memory of his daughters. For several years Dr Abuelaish worked part time at Sheba on fertility research and treatment projects.

Asked whether it was difficult to start raising money for an Israeli institution after his experience, he replied that humanitarian cooperation across national divides is the essence of his message. “This hospital is the place where everything melts,” he said. “There is diversity, and everyone is equal: Palestinians, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze. All are equal, and that is a message we can learn from medicinethe message of equality and justice.

“In the end [the conference facility] will help human beings there, it will help sick patients, and this hospital serves Palestinians and Israelis and we must promote more collaboration, more partnership,” he explained.

So, with a positive message in the article, what’s the problem?

Doctors at the Sheba Medical Center contacted HonestReporting after finding that the BMJ’s print version  had omitted all of the above paragraphs. When asked for an explanation, the BMJ’s News Editor responded:

I am sorry that some of your contacts in Israel think that the way that the story about Dr Abuelaish was cut shows bias on our part. I can assure you that was absolutely not my intention. I try to maintain the balance of stories when I cut them to fit the space on the page.

The single criterion that I use is: “How essential is this sentence to the crux of the story?” In the case of that feature, the length had to be reduced by about a half, so a huge amount of interesting information had to be removed.  I did the cutting, and had to pare the piece down to its essentials.

If it is any consolation to the complainants, the number of people who read the on-line version far exceeds those who read the print version. We have more than a million on-line readers and only 120,000 print readers. The on-line version is also there in perpetuity whereas the print version usually ends up in the re-cyclying bin at the end of the week.

Even if one takes the BMJ’s explanation at face value, it is perhaps illustrative of the BMJ’s mindset that when it came to the final cut, it was these particular paragraphs that were sacrificed.

In addition, this isn’t the first time that the BMJ has demonstrated anti-Israel bias. In February 2009, the BMJ devoted some five articles reviewing the “perils of criticizing Israel” and a substantial amount of print  concentrated on attacking HonestReporting itself. In response a medical professional and HonestReporting subscriber did his own research showing that the BMJ has a disproportionate interest in Palestinian deaths over those from other conflict areas where the impact on public health is certainly as great and potentially greater than that of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.




It isn’t only the BMJ that has exhibited anti-Israel bias in medical journals. As Barbara Kay, a columnist for Canada’s National Post writes:


In the February 2009 issue of Commentary (requires a login), an official organ of the Royal College of Physicians of London, for example, an inflammatory “special” article erroneously claims, amongst other falsehoods, that Palestinian physicians were prevented from traveling abroad for training and conferences. This was especially galling to Israeli medical professionals because, as Hebrew University Professor Oded Abramsky wrote in an open letter to the Royal College of Physicians: “The level of cooperation between Israeli and Gazan hospitals and medical personnel and the cross-border treatment of the ill and wounded is without question greater than between any two other entities in the world who are nominally (and sometimes actively) at war. Therefore, please keep medicine and politics separate, for the good of all, as we try to do in Israel.” An apology by the journal was later (grudgingly) issued.

To prove that bias amongst British medical research elites is systemic rather than random, a group of Israeli medical academics, led by Prof. Yehuda Shoenfeld, editor-in-chief of the Israeli Medical Association Journal, assessed coverage of conflict-related deaths around the world.

Their study analyzed citations in the British Medical Journal, a wholly owned subsidiary of the British Medical Association, finding
that: for Europeans killing Europeans (Bosnia), there was one citation for every 2,000 deaths; for Africans killing Africans (Rwanda), one citation for every 4,000 deaths; for Arabs killing black Africans (Darfur), one citation for every 7,000 deaths; for Arab Muslims killing Kurds, no citation whatsoever; yet, for Israelis killing Palestinians, one citation for every 13 deaths.

Read the full article here.

If you are a certified medical professional, please contact the BMJ and, if you are a member, the British Medical Association, to ask why the BMJ is promoting such a biased and politicized editorial policy.