Michael Eisen, a geneticist at the University of California, Berkeley, and the editor of the scientific journal eLife, tweeted to say he had been informed he is “being replaced” as the publication’s editor for “retweeting a @TheOnion piece that calls out indifference to the lives of Palestinian civilians.”
“I have been informed that I am being replaced as the Editor in Chief of @eLife for retweeting a @TheOnion piece that calls out indifference to the lives of Palestinian civilians,” Eisen write.
Following Eisen’s announcement that he’d been terminated for boosting the satirical post, eLife editor and early-career adviser Lara Urban said she was resigning from the publication in protest.
“Mike’s dismissal for expressing his personal views sets a dangerous precedent for freedom of speech in our academic community, and it validates cyber-bullying as a successful and legitimate tool to get scientists with controversial opinions fired,” Urban wrote in a statement. “Within eLife, this means that personal opinions can and will be policed by the journal.”
She added: “This has already started creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear, especially for early-career and minority researchers. In addition, I am deeply concerned that the voices of eLife’s early-career advisors have been ignored and sidelined while we are supposed to represent the wider scientific community and especially less powerful minority researchers and early-career researchers.”
On Oct. 13, just under a week after Hamas gunmen massacred civilians and soldiers in southern Israel, Eisen quote-tweeted an Onion article with the headline: “Dying Gazans Criticized For Not Using Last Words To Condemn Hamas.”
“The Onion speaks with more courage, insight and moral clarity than the leaders of every academic institution put together,” Eisen commented, adding that he wished there was an Onion university.
Amid backlash over the tweet, Eisen–who is Jewish–reshared his post along with additional observations about the bloody conflict in Gaza.
“Every sane person on Earth is horrified and traumatized by what Hamas did and wants it to never happen again,” he wrote. I am even more horrified as an Israeli Jew. But I am also horrified by the collective punishment already being meted out on Gazans, and the worse that is about to come.”
He also noted that The Onion wasn’t “making light of the situation” and neither was he, adding that the articles were “using satire to make a deadly serious point about this horrific tragedy.”
Regardless, Eisen continued to face calls for his resignation from Israeli researchers and scientists, some of whom accused him of “moral bankruptcy.” The efforts to push Eisen out over his opinions on the Gaza conflict and criticism of Israel prompted a petition urging the publisher of eLife to take no disciplinary action against the magazine’s editor-in-chief.
“Our opinion is not based on the merits (or lack thereof) of Eisen’s views. Rather, we believe that censuring Eisen would create a chilling effect on freedom of expression in academia,” the petition’s authors wrote.
Nevertheless, according to Eisen, eLife decided to cut ties with him this week. A request for comment was not responded to immediately by the publication.
Eisen’s ouster over what is perceived as siding with Palestinians comes amid rising tensions in newsrooms, where several journalists have already lost jobs for criticizing Israel’s response to the Hamas terror attacks.
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