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January 4, 2021 8:33 am

COVID-19 Vaccines, Israel and Antisemitism

avatar by Jacob Sivak


Nurse Hela Litwin administers Israel’s first SARs-CoV-2 vaccine, BriLife, to volunteer Segev Harel at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer in Ramat Gan in Nov. 1, 2020. Photo: Israeli Defense Ministry Spokesperson’s Office.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a global challenge, and the one thing that should be clear to everybody is that no country or population is immune from its ravages.

The only good news so far has been the success of the scientific community in developing vaccines for COVID-19 in record-breaking time. Recent attention has focused on the speed of the various vaccination efforts — and particularly on the success of one small country, Israel, in getting its population vaccinated as quickly as possible.

On television news, in online reports, and in the print media, the last few days of 2020 and the first few days of the new year have seen an explosion of interest in Israel’s lead in the vaccination race. The last article that I read indicated that the number of Israelis who have received at least one dose of the vaccine (reports approximate one million) is far beyond any other national effort in per capita terms. And Israel is number three in the world in absolute numbers as well.

The reasons for this success have been widely discussed. These usually include the well-developed Israeli health system, the training and abilities of its health professionals, government foresight in acquiring vaccines, and the sophistication of the Israeli biomedical industry, particularly its success in learning how to effectively transport the vaccine to smaller distribution centers.

However, not all of the news reports have been laudatory. Quite a few have been critical of the Israelis for ignoring the needs of the Palestinians. Such reports have appeared, for example, in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Toronto Star, and NPR, among others. The headlines are particularly damning. For example, The Guardian article is titled “Palestinians excluded from Israeli Covid vaccine rollout as jabs go to settlers.” The article itself is a little more nuanced, pointing out that under the Oslo Accords, Israel is not responsible for the health care of the Palestinians in the West Bank.

The NPR headline reads, “As Israel Leads In COVID-19 Vaccines Per Capita, Palestinians Still Await Shots.” However, the article later admits that a Palestinian health official said that there is little money for vaccines because of an only-recently resolved financial crisis brought on by a months-long Palestinian Authority boycott of Israel.

The overall impression from these headlines is that the Israelis can do no right, while the Palestinians can do no wrong. Fortunately, an informative and accurate article was published in The Jerusalem Post on December 21, 2020. The author, Khaled Abu Toameh, a Palestinian Israeli, points out that the Palestinian Authority has stated that it has not asked the Israelis to help them acquire vaccines, nor do they expect the Israelis to do so.

Another Palestinian official is quoted as saying, “We are not a department in the Israeli Defense Ministry. We have our own government and Ministry of Health, and they are making huge efforts to get the vaccine.” An Israeli government official has stated that Israel wants to help the Palestinians, but cannot do so in the absence of dialogue. Moreover, the same official noted that Israel has assisted the UN in helping the Palestinians deal with the spread of COVID-19.

Ironically, a survey by Oxford University found that 20% of Britons believe that COVID-19 is a Jewish invention designed for financial gain and to cause the economy to collapse. To some, any positive news about Israel is an abomination, even Israel’s success in pointing the way out of a worldwide morass.

Jacob (Jake) Sivak, elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2002, is a retired professor in the School of Optometry, University of Waterloo.

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