Its editor-in-chief eLife scientific journal has been fired after praising one Onion article mocking the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas.
The magazine confirmed in a statement that it fired Michael Eisen, its editor-in-chief, for retweeting an article by the satirical news website about violence in the Middle East.
“Mike received clear feedback from the board that his approach to leadership, communication, and social media at times was detrimental to the cohesiveness of the community we are trying to build and therefore to the mission of eLife. In this context, a further occurrence of this behavior contributed to the board's decision,” the statement said.
Mr. Eisen, who is Jewish, commented on his dismissal in a statement on X/Twitter.
“Informed that I am being replaced as editor-in-chief of @eLife for retweeting a piece by @TheOnion citing indifference to the lives of Palestinian civilians,” he wrote on the social networking site.
The spark that ignited the controversy began on Oct. 13, when Mr. Eisen — who works as a geneticist funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, praised Onion article satirizing the way Israel supporters and some media personalities demand denunciations of Hamas from anyone who expresses concern for the welfare of Palestinian citizens.
The Onion The story was headlined “Dying Gazans criticized for not using last words to condemn Hamas.”
Israel has been engaged in a bombing campaign in Gaza in retaliation for an October 7 attack in which Hamas entered southern Israel and killed around 1,400 Israelis.
More than 5,000 Palestinians have been killed since the fighting broke out, according to Hamas' health ministry in Gaza.
Mr. Eisen praised the article for its “courage” and “moral clarity.”
“The onion he speaks with more courage, insight and moral clarity than the leaders of every academic institution combined. I wish there was a university @TheOnion,” he wrote.
His support for the article sparked a backlash among Israel's supporters, who saw his support for Palestinian civilians as a lack of empathy for the Israelis killed in the Hamas attack.
He pushed back on those hints in a subsequent statement.
“Every sane person on Earth is horrified and traumatized by what Hamas did and wants it to never happen again. Even more so as a Jew with an Israeli family,” he wrote. “But I also fear the collective punishment already being meted out to the people of Gaza and the worst that is yet to come. … The onion it does not illuminate the situation. And neither do I. These articles use satire to make a deadly serious point about this horrific tragedy.”
For some, like Yaniv Erlich, a prominent Israeli-American scientist who serves as CEO of Eleven Therapeutics, that explanation wasn't enough.
“Empty words. For 7 days you haven't sent a single word of support on Twitter [sic] for Israeli researchers, some of whom lost children and friends. And now you dare to give us military advice from your privileged position of security. What moral bankruptcy,” he said he wrote in response in Mr. Eisen's statement, according to Science.
After Mr. Eisen was fired, Mr. Erlich said that while he disagreed with the scientist's views, his dismissal was not a “preferred outcome.”
Critics have called for Mr. Eisen to resign or be fired. He met with of eLife came on board on October 19 to discuss his tweets and the ensuing controversy, and told Science that “without much explanation other than the tweet had caused problems at eLife. … The board doesn't want eLife involved in controversy, and they see me, I guess, as someone who makes things controversial.”
The board reportedly told him he would be fired if he did not resign, but he refused to leave voluntarily.
“They will and have alienated a huge part of the community: people who don't think it's wrong to express political views that not everyone agrees with,” Mr. Eisen said. Science.
His dismissal resulted in the resignation of Lara Urban, reviews editor at eLife.
“Firing Mike for expressing his personal views sets a dangerous precedent for free speech in our academic community.” he wrote on X/Twitter. “[I]t validates cyberbullying as a successful and legitimate tool for dismissing scientists with controversial views.”
Senior Editor at eLifeMolly Przeworski, too he said he planned to resign, calling the board's decision “discriminatory and a dangerous precedent.” He also said it violated the magazine's code of conduct to “respect different views, opinions and experiences.”
The magazine made the following statement when asked about Mr. Eisen's firing and the subsequent impact on the publication:
“We regret that some editors have made the decision to resign as a result of both Mike's tweets and our decision on the matter, but we strongly believe that this decision is best reserved of eLife future and fame. We are aware of the open letter and value and respect everyone's right to free speech. Particularly for those in leadership positions, the exercise of this right comes with responsibilities: an expectation of good judgment and a duty of care to the communities they serve. We do not believe that these qualities have been demonstrated in this and previous cases.”