Israel to put on hold program to send vaccines abroad amid legal scrutiny

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came under fire for donating COVID-19 vaccines to foreign allies.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the arrival of the first batch of Pfizer coronavirus vaccines in Israel  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the arrival of the first batch of Pfizer coronavirus vaccines in Israel
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu froze his plan to send doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to countries friendly to Israel on Thursday, following questions of its legality.
An official in the Prime Minister’s Office said that “even though not one vaccine was taken from the citizens of Israel and despite the fact that the amount [planned to be sent] to the countries is symbolic and builds a good name for Israel in the world, a pre-petition arose that had the attorney-general turn to the national security adviser, and as such, the national security adviser asked the attorney-general for an opinion on the matter.”
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit asked National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat for give more details about the initiative, out of a concern that there may be a petition against it to the High Court of Justice. Ben-Shabbat decided to wait until he receives Mandelblit’s legal opinion on the matter.
In addition, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi demanded that it be brought to a vote in the Security Cabinet.
Gantz opposed the vaccine aid plan on the grounds that Netanyahu made the decision alone, without a cabinet vote or consultation, and praised the fact that it had been put on hold.
“Netanyahu’s move was made undemocratically, while circumventing the rules,” Gantz lamented. “If there is a reason to transfer vaccines to different countries at the expense of Israeli citizens, it will be decided only in the appropriate forums. Making decisions in the dark raises suspicious of harm to Israel’s foreign relations and national security.”
Earlier this week, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that several countries, as well as the Palestinian Authority, would receive a symbolic number of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from Israel.
About 20 countries were on the list to get 1,000-5,000 doses each. Those include Mauritania, with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations, Chad, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Guinea, Honduras, Kenya, the Maldives, San Marino, and Uganda, as well as three EU countries, Cyprus, Czech Republic and Hungary.
“We’re sending vaccines to countries we have friendly relations with,” a senior official said, when asked if the vaccine aid was a sign Israel and Mauritania are on a path to normalization.
Guatemala has an embassy in Jerusalem, Czech Republic is expected to open a diplomatic office in the capital in the coming days, and Equatorial Guinea has promised to open an embassy there.
Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash told ynet on Wednesday: "It is important to vaccinate all citizens of Israel, and that is the first priority. I know the prime minister is making sure to bring more vaccines so there will be enough for everyone...My advice was not sought [about sending vaccines abroad] and this was not is not in my area of responsibility."
"Netanyahu's decision was reached in a non-democratic manner, while bypassing important procedures," Gantz tweeted. "If providing vaccines to other countries on the expense of Israeli citizens in necessary - it will be decided by the appropriate entities. Making decisions in the dark raises concerns of damage to Israel's foreign relations and national security."