Journal Editor Fired for Hamas-Israeli Conflict Comments

Derick Alison
Derick Alison
5 Min Read

Michael B. Eisen, PhD, said in a post on X (formerly Twitter) that he was fired as editor-in-chief of the open-access journal eLife for re-posting and endorsing a satirical story in The Onion.

“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,” he wrote.

The headline of the article was, “Dying Gazans Criticized For Not Using Last Words to Condemn Hamas.” Eisen had followed up his October 13 post by saying, “The Onion speaks with more courage, insight and moral clarity than the leaders of every academic institution put together. I wish there were a @TheOnion university.”

In a brief statement, eLife‘s board of directors confirmed the decision to replace Eisen. “Mike has been given clear feedback from the board that his approach to leadership, communication and social media has at key times been detrimental to the cohesion of the community we are trying to build and hence to eLife‘s mission. It is against this background that a further incidence of this behaviour has contributed to the board’s decision.”

Eisen is being replaced by long-serving deputy editors Detlef Weigel, PhD, and Tim Behrens, PhD, who will serve as co-editors through the end of 2024. The board will search for a new editor-in-chief in the second half of next year.

Eisen’s tweet of The Onion story drew criticism for appearing to be tone deaf to the suffering and horror of Israelis killed by Hamas. According to an article in Science, Eisen, who is Jewish, dug in. A day later, he posted on X again, saying, “Every sane person on Earth is horrified and traumatized by what Hamas did and wants it to never happen again. All the more so as a Jew with Israeli family. But I am also horrified by the collective punishment already being meted out on Gazans, and the worse that is about to come.”

He told Science that the eLife board told him he would be fired if he did not resign, but that he refused. “I think this as a terrible decision by eLife leadership,” he told Science. “They’re going to alienate and have alienated a huge part of the community: people who don’t think it’s bad to express political opinions that not everybody agrees with.”

In the wake of his action, at least two eLife editors said they would resign, and one told Science that “at least seven editors have stepped down so far in protest.”

Some who followed the issue expressed outrage at eLife’s stance on X. One called his dismissal “McCarthyist,” while another said that it might have been in bad taste for making light of tragedy, “but it in no way condoned hatred or violence.”

“Shouldn’t parody be protected under free speech?” said another.

According to his Wikipedia page, Eisen is a computational biologist at the University of California Berkeley and is the co-founder of the Public Library of Science (PLOS), serving on its board. He ran for U.S. Senate from California as an independent in 2018 but failed to qualify for the ballot.

On October 23, Eisen posted this on X: “I still believe deeply in the need for a radical restructuring of science publishing to create an open and fair system that works well for science, for all scientists everywhere, and the public that supports us, and am proud of the steps we have taken to begin to get us there.”

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    Cheryl Clark has been a medical & science journalist for more than three decades.

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