Right from wrong: Cancel Tel Aviv’s anti-vax convention

And it’s no wonder, when anti-vaxxers, who used to be viewed as “fringe,” fuel their views on social media and hold demonstrations in major cities to bolster their position.

 Closeup of doctor giving a vaccination to a young patient. (Illustrative) (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Closeup of doctor giving a vaccination to a young patient. (Illustrative)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
The cacophony surrounding the coalition stalemate’s perilous effect on crucial matters of health, education and welfare – due to a lack of ministerial budgets – seems to have drowned out the Channel 12 report last week of an upcoming event in Tel Aviv that poses a real and present danger to public safety. 

The event, which is scheduled to take place on November 21 at Expo Tel Aviv, known commonly in Hebrew as “Ganei HaTaarucha,” is a gathering of people from Israel and abroad who oppose vaccinations. Yes, anti-vaxxers from all over will be gathering in the White City that never sleeps to spread lies and germs. They don’t see it that way, of course. But the rest of us need to be reminded why their insane movement is not merely their own private business, as the following story illustrates.

After a nearly five-month battle with complications from the measles, an El Al Airlines flight attendant died in August. Rotem Amitai, a 43-year-old mother of three who contracted the disease on a flight from New York to Tel Aviv on March 26, fell into a coma upon landing in Israel and was rushed to the hospital.

In the immediate aftermath of Amitai’s flight, El Al set up an inoculation station at Ben-Gurion Airport to vaccinate its employees against the measles. Within a week, hundreds of ground and air crews received injections at the makeshift clinic, which was created in accordance with a Health Ministry directive demanding that all local airline staff and the public get fully vaccinated before taking any trips out of the country.

Amitai spent her last months on earth in an isolated intensive care unit, where doctors concluded that she had suffered brain damage. Her blood tests revealed that she had been inoculated against the measles, but had received only one dose, rather than two that became necessary for anyone born after 1957.

The worst part about this tragedy is that it was avoidable. Had the herd immunity responsible for the virtual eradication of one of the world’s most contagious diseases not been compromised by a resurgence of the anti-vaxxer campaign, Amitai’s single dose almost certainly would have sufficed. 

Ditto for the other two Israelis – an 18-month-old toddler and an 82-year-old woman – who died of the virus in November and December 2018, respectively. Though each was in a high-risk category for contracting the virus, all would be alive today if the people around them had been inoculated properly.

To add insult to illness, the anti-vaxxers at home and abroad are not the least bit apologetic. On the contrary, they appear to have become more vocal than ever about their convictions.

Shamefully, as parents in third-world areas of the globe beg and claw to obtain the measles and other vaccines to protect themselves and their children from harm, groups of privileged mothers and fathers in OECD-member states are opting out of inoculation – stubbornly refusing a simple life-saving prophylactic procedure – for a variety of irrational and ill-informed ideological reasons or ungodly religious ones.

The most ridiculous of these, which was debunked years ago, is based on the bald-faced lie that vaccines cause autism. The blatant falsehood first appeared in an article by Dr. Andrew Wakefield in the medical journal, The Lancet, in 1998. It was retracted in 2010, when Wakefield, whose research was revealed to be fraudulent, lost his license to practice medicine.

In addition to junk-science patsies, anti-vaxxers include Christian Scientists, members of the Dutch Reformed Church, libertarians who oppose any government-agency interference in their lives and alternative-medicine cultists. It is an odd set of bedfellows, to be sure, especially when a few extremist sects of ultra-Orthodox Jews are added to the mix. The latter is credited with the outbreak of the measles in New York and Jerusalem, which is why travel between the two is considered to be a major factor in the uptick.

Israel is among the countries that have what the World Health Organization (WHO) calls “high overall vaccination coverage” yet have been experiencing a sharp rise in the spread of the virus over the past year and a half. Between July 2018 and July 2019 alone, Israel’s Health Ministry reported on 4,292 cases.

According to the Vaccine Knowledge Project, herd immunity only works if 19 out of every 20 people in a community are inoculated against the measles, but it’s still not sufficient as an alternative to vaccination. What this means is that countries previously free of the virus are now reverting to the days before such a blessing existed. Even the United States, which in the year 2000 justifiably declared that it had eradicated the disease, is on the verge of losing that status.

And it’s no wonder, when anti-vaxxers, who used to be viewed as “fringe,” fuel their views on social media and hold demonstrations in major cities to bolster their position.

As if this weren’t shocking enough, the main anti-vaccination organization in the US – the Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN) – has been using a yellow Star of David, with the words “No Vax” in a Hebrew-like font, as its campaign logo. It is one that activists wear on their shirts at public protests, many of which are aimed at encouraging Orthodox Jews to join. ICAN’s vile message is that forcing people to vaccinate their children is tantamount to the Nazi persecution of Jews during the Holocaust.

ICAN’s FOUNDER and CEO, Del Bigtree, wrote and produced the disgusting 2016 documentary, Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe. The director of the film was good old discredited “doctor” Wakefield. Rather than fade into the dustbin of documentaries that never should have been made in the first place, the movie gained lots of attention, spurring the New York City-based Selz Foundation to present Bigtree with a $100,000 grant to set up ICAN, and an additional million dollars the following year.

Bigtree’s chief administrative officer at ICAN, Catharine Layton, is the mother of two boys diagnosed with autism. Sad doesn’t begin to describe the situation of parents like her, who buy into the bull and believe that vaccines caused their children’s plight. Talk about totally misguided guilt and blame.

Well, Bigtree is listed as a key speaker at next month’s conference in Tel Aviv, organized by the Israeli anti-vaxxer group, “Hisunim – Bhira muskelet” (“Vaccinations – An educated choice”), which has been selling tickets and crowdfunding on Facebook. 

The ad for the “international convention, the first of its kind in Israel,” reads, in part: “Great forces are keeping us out of the public discourse; they’re afraid for us to make our own decisions about our children, preventing our doctors from a wide range of research and existing facts... Whatever the system is trying to hide, we will expose, with the help of a variety of the world’s expert researchers and physicians. 

The pharmaceutical companies employ the largest PR firms in Israel, as well as dozens of lobbyists, and exert pressure on the media. 

Interest groups are trying to present us as crazy... Don’t succumb to their powerful propaganda campaign... Do your own research, read and learn, for the sake of all our children.”

The trouble is that while the above self-proclaimed “thousands of concerned Israeli parents” are busy studying material that few of them understand, the measles is spreading across the country, giving new meaning to the Shakespearean quote, “a pox on both your houses.”

Indeed, the anti-vaxxers not only are putting their own families at risk by following unfounded suspicions, but are jeopardizing the health of everybody else’s loved ones in the process.

What beggars belief, considering the crisis that has the WHO, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Israel’s Health Ministry playing an arduous game of catch-up, is the Tel Aviv Municipality’s stamp of approval for a conference that should be banned as a health hazard. City Hall responded to Channel 12’s query about the display of its logo on the invitation to the conference by saying, “Expo Tel Aviv hosts hundreds of conferences every year, which are the sole responsibility of their organizers. Neither the municipality nor Expo interferes in these conferences, even if [we] disapprove of their content, as long as they’re conducted in accordance with the law.”

The question, then, is why such a gathering should be legal, when driving under the influence is not. Both are personal choices that kill, after all. In the meantime, the best the public can do is call for the event to be canceled, and steer clear of the vicinity if and when it isn’t.