Friday, May 27th | 26 Iyyar 5782

January 5, 2021 3:07 pm

‘Guardian’ Article Spreads Antisemitic Falsehoods on Vaccine

avatar by Shany Mor


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.

In a time of heightened anxiety, it’s natural to seek comfort in things that make us feel most safe, most at home, most ourselves.

For The Guardian, mainstay of the British left and a go-to website for liberal American intellectuals, that means running a piece of gross antisemitism masquerading as progressive anti-racism.

An article this Sunday (which ran under their Sunday affiliate the Observer) made explicit what was only hinted at in their earlier coverage, and which can best be summarized by its headline: “Palestinians excluded from Israeli Covid vaccine rollout as jabs go to settlers.”

This kind of story is actually a sub-genre at which the Guardian particularly excels: the false story of Israeli medical malpractice which is supposed to prove the innate moral rot of the Jewish state.

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It always has the same three elements:

1) Crazy Jewish doctors doing something fishy;

2) Broad hints that their motivations are racially supremacist;

3) Heroic humanitarians bravely standing up to the nefarious Jewish plot.

Previous examples include “Israel admits harvesting Palestinian organs” in 2009 (for which they ran a dodgy and partial correction), a false story on “forced contraception” of Ethiopian women by Israeli doctors in 2013, another on “confirmed targeting” of hospitals in Gaza in 2014, and the 2010 reporting on Jenny Tonge’s lies about an Israeli rescue team harvesting body parts of Haitian earthquake victims — which never clarified she was lying but made sure we knew that she is not antisemitic.

Even by those standards, the recent piece is remarkably dishonest. The headline makes it sound like Israeli authorities are out distributing vaccines but actively excluding Palestinians, presumably blocking them at the schoolhouse door or something like that.

Vaccines, after all, don’t just get tossed from the air or delivered in the post. Governments procure them; various agencies distribute them; clinics, hospitals, old-age homes inject them — and all of this is done in a regulatory environment that by necessity has to prioritize at-risk people and essential workers, decisions based on data that vary country by country.

In Israel this has been done with astonishing efficacy through four non-profit health funds running fully digitized services for all Israeli citizens by law. The state paid a high premium to drug manufacturers, and the Ministry of Health employed a simple standard for prioritizing senior citizens. The funds use their vast data systems to locate at-risk members and tightly stack appointments in existing clinics and purpose-built facilities.

Every single Israeli citizen is by law a member of a health fund, and all citizens, Arab and Jewish, have had equal access. When vaccination rates were lower in the Arab community last week, no less than the prime minister himself visited a clinic in an Arab village and had TV cameras record him saying in Arabic “go and get vaccinated” (the pronunciation of which he mangled).

Arab citizens aren’t just receiving the vaccine; they are also administering it. One of the most notable aspects of the COVID-19 crisis in Israel has been the prominent place of Arab Israelis on the “front lines” as doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and researchers.

There are many elements to the Israeli vaccination success, and this is not the place to summarize them all. Suffice it to say that the background conditions play a big part, and this is why it would be so difficult to replicate elsewhere. Actual journalism would have seen fit to research and report the story.

But this piece of “journalism” doesn’t just fail to report on the Israeli side; it fails to report on the Palestinian side too. In the Guardian‘s telling, the Palestinians are just props for a projection of anxieties and racist fantasies about Jews.

In fact, there is very little to report on the COVID-19 story in the Palestinian territories, so this story covers a non-story added to a series of them.

First, the situation in the West Bank & Gaza is far from crisis proportions. In terms of both infections and fatalities, the situation is significantly worse in Israel, and much worse in the UK. The numbers are also slightly worse in Lebanon and Jordan. There are many reasons for this, but one surely is that the Palestinians have one of the region’s better health systems.

The second is the vaccinations. Not many have occurred yet, but this is equally true in almost every single country in the world, including many in western Europe. The PA secured a commitment from Russia for the Sputnik vaccine, but the delivery has been delayed — also not an extraordinary development. It will also receive vaccines from the World Health Organization’s COVAX program.

And there’s a third non-story: Israel’s role. Israel has not impeded in any way the deliveries of vaccines to the West Bank or Gaza. It has facilitated them throughout the autonomy years and before, even in the peak periods of conflict. There is absolutely nothing to indicate that Israel will fall short of its obligations once COVID-19 vaccines start arriving — not a hint.

Tweeting out links with screenshots of the Fourth Geneva Convention doesn’t change the fact that Israel has more than met its obligations. The fervent desire to imagine that Israel has not — that it has, in the parlance of excitable social media activists, engaged in eugenics or genocide — is more revealing about the racist fantasies of those who utter them than of anything happening on the ground.

Moreover, Israel has offered to help the PA on this issue, but these offers have been (publicly at least) rejected, as the Guardian story gets around to pointing out near the bottom of the piece.

What obstacles do exist in the Palestinian Territories are more prosaic: not unique to the Palestinians at all, and have nothing to do with Israel, so they simply merit attention. These include a Palestinian decision to not work with the Pfizer vaccine, because of concerns about the cold storage requirements, and a high rate of vaccine skepticism in Palestinian public opinion (something which presumably wouldn’t be helped if it was Israelis making the injections).

The legal obligation of the Palestinian Authority, not Israel, for administering health and vaccinations is mentioned in the Guardian article very briefly in a dismissive way, referencing “1990’s-era interim agreements.” These would be the international accords that are the entire basis for the existence of a Palestinian government; it’s a bit like saying that House of Commons legislation is based on “an early 18th century act of union.”

In typically revisionist style, the article continues, “those deals envisioned a fuller peace agreement within five years, an event that never occurred.” Left unmentioned is that it never occurred because the Palestinian side rejected multiple peace offers and preferred to pursue suicidal terrorism instead.

The result is nothing on nothing on nothing: no extraordinary coronavirus crisis in the PA, no special story relating to vaccination, and no Israeli action that has had an adverse effect.

And yet, for the obsessive theological haters of Israel: a social media outcry, which evolves into press releases from sundry “activists” and organizations, which then turns into a banner Guardian story.

So what is the story here exactly? Not something happening in the Palestinian territories. Not something Israel has done. It’s a moral outrage at something Israel has not done — which is bizarre, because nearly everyone in the world has not done the exact same thing. It’s worth walking through what doing it would mean, and whether that would be met with any equanimity either on the ground or in global public opinion.

What Israel didn’t do was implement a vaccination program in the West Bank and Gaza similar to the one that its domestic health care system allowed it to administer at home. It did not send its army into Palestinian cities, towns, and villages, occupy clinics, commandeer private medical records, make determination about who was a first priority for vaccinations and who a second or third in the Palestinian population, and then gather Palestinian citizens and inject them them one-by-one with needles that are said by Israeli authorities to contain a vaccine.

Is the idea that if Israel had done these things, it would receive the world’s praise? Really? This is what The Guardian is now claiming is required by international law?

Of course not — because the actual COVID-19 situation in the Palestinian Territories is not the concern being addressed. The concern is anxiety about the slow pace of vaccine rollouts at home and resentment at Israel’s apparent success. There is not a single step Israel could take on this that would not be seen as proof of Israeli malfeasance.

It is surely a comment on what the “Palestinian cause” does and means for some Western adherents that this outcry was mainly bubbling on social media all week not from Palestinians or their representatives. Instead it came from from assorted Western activists and bigots suffering under the intense stress of watching Israel do something good, and not knowing how to reconcile it with the burning theological commitment they have to the proposition that everything Israeli is touched by sin.

Inevitably the Palestinian leadership will come around and adopt this approach for propaganda purposes, but it is still interesting to see what they were saying before, only two weeks ago: “A senior official with the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health said that the Palestinians do not expect Israel to sell them, or purchase on their behalf, the vaccine from any country.” And from another official: “We are working on our own to obtain the vaccine from a number of sources. 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.”

No doubt the writers of the Guardian story, like the editors who ran it and the self-satisfied audience reading and tweeting it, feel that this article is a win for social justice, afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. But the belief that Israel is an inherent evil and that everything it is and does — its food, its art, even its medicine — is tainted by sin, is not a politics. It’s a theology.

This is what stands behind such a shoddy piece of reporting like this article. This is what stands behind the recurrent defense on the pages of the Guardian of any public figure accused of antisemitism, a defense offered to figures accused of no other kind of racism. This is what stands behind the almost conspiratorial nuttiness behind the attacks on the IHRA definition, a forum for which is provided for no other kind of bigots. This is what stands behind the sudden obsessive hounding of the members of Britain Equalities and Human Rights Commission only once they began investigating antisemitism in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, when before there was never an issue. And this is the reason for the recurrent appearance of particularly untalented columnists who flaunt their connection to Judaism as a shield for outlandish claims against Israel and the UK Jewish community, a type of tokenism never undertaken for any other British minority group in the otherwise scrupulously sensitive Guardian commentary page.

And as I have written here and elsewhere so many times, no mainstream outlet has done more in the past 30 years to normalize the view that the Jewish state is uniquely diabolically evil, and that Jews who object to this postulate aren’t genuinely concerned, but rather part of a concerted effort to halt the march of justice and righteousness in the world.

This is article is only the latest instantiation. It, the “journalists” who wrote it, and the newspaper which published it are a disgrace.

Shany Mor is a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute. He is a postdoctoral fellow at the Herzl Institute for the Study of Zionism and a research fellow at the Chaikin Institute for Geostrategy, both at the University of Haifa. He is also an associate fellow at the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College. Follow him on Twitter at @ShMMor.

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