Media adopts canard Israel denies vaccine to Palestinians - analysis

Major media outlets are playing a role in promoting the lie that Israel is somehow barring Palestinians from getting vaccinated against coronavirus.

A woman receives a vaccination against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a vaccination center in Umm El-Fahem, Israel January 3, 2021 (photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
A woman receives a vaccination against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a vaccination center in Umm El-Fahem, Israel January 3, 2021
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
In March, the Anti-Defamation League published an article on its website called “Coronavirus crisis elevates antisemitic, racist tropes.”
The article featured images shared by white supremacists and anti-Israel antisemites on social media and messaging apps accusing Jews of, among other things, intentionally spreading COVID-19. One example was a cartoon of the IDF trapping an elderly Palestinian woman with the spiky balls that have come to symbolize COVID-19.
Not among the examples? Major media outlets. Ten months later, quite a few could be added to the list of contemporary examples of the centuries-old antisemitic libel that Jews spread diseases.
Twitter accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers have been spreading the libel that Israel, the world leader in vaccinating its population against COVID-19, is intentionally leaving the Palestinians to languish in the middle of a pandemic. But that’s Twitter; anyone with an opinion can express it, even if it’s not based on facts.
Yet, in recent days, supposedly respectable news sites that are supposed to check facts and be accountable to the truth are spreading the same bile as Iranian Holocaust-denial cartoon contest runner-up Carlos Latuff in that example from the ADL article.
“As Israel leads in COVID-19 vaccines per capita, Palestinians still await shots,” the NPR headline reads, implying some kind of correlation.
“Palestinians left waiting as Israel is set to deploy COVID-19 vaccine,” read an Associated Press headline, reprinted by countless news outlets, including PBS and Al Jazeera.
A Guardian article lamented in its headline: “Palestinians excluded from Israeli Covid vaccine rollout as jabs go to settlers.”
“Human rights groups accuse Israel of dodging obligations to millions in occupied territories who may wait months for vaccination,” reads the subhead.
If you perused these purported newspapers of records’ coverage of the coronavirus vaccine rollout, you would get the impression that Israel has engaged in some kind of conspiracy to, well, trap the Palestinians with the spiky coronavirus balls.
You have to get halfway through the Guardian story before you reach the following: “Despite the delay, the [Palestinian] Authority has not officially asked for help from Israel. Coordination between the two sides halted last year after the Palestinian president cut off security ties for several months.”
In other words, the Palestinian leadership refused to even talk to Israel when the latter was ordering vaccine doses, let alone coordinate a complex rollout operation. Before that, the UN’s official news site published an article titled: “COVID-19: UN envoy hails strong Israel-Palestine cooperation.”
In response to a petition from an NGO claiming Israel is not helping the Palestinians enough, the government in May reported to the High Court of Justice a long list of actions it had taken, including holding training courses for medical teams and lab technicians and donating coronavirus testing kits.
In other words, Israel had been willing to help before the Palestinians cut ties. And more recently, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein last month told The New York Times it is in Israel’s interest to help stop the virus from spreading among Palestinians, adding that he has “no doubt it will be done.”
As Khaled Abu Toameh reported in this paper two weeks ago, “The Palestinians do not expect Israel to sell them, or purchase on their behalf, the vaccine from any country... the Palestinians will soon receive nearly four million Russian-made vaccines against COVID-19. The PA, with the help of the World Health Organization, has managed to secure the vaccine from other sources.”
The PA’s current assessment is that they will begin to receive doses of the Sputnik V and AstraZeneca vaccines in February. This is comparable with neighboring countries in the region, including those with major Palestinian populations such as Lebanon and Jordan, which have not rolled out vaccination operations, and with many other poor countries participating in the WHO vaccine aid program.
HERE ARE some other pertinent facts: The Oslo Accords, though a group of interim agreements and not a final-status peace treaty, are widely considered an international legally binding agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. They stipulate that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for healthcare, including vaccinations, for Palestinians in Judea and Samaria and Gaza.
The PA has been keeping its end of the bargain on that front for nearly 30 years, something that news outlets whose reporters constantly quote the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry’s reports of damage inflicted by Israel surely already know.
Also a fact: Israel is actually already vaccinating Palestinians – the ones in east Jerusalem. They are not citizens of Israel, just residents, but their healthcare is under Israel’s purview per the Oslo Accords, and those who are 60 or older or have a chronic condition can be vaccinated in Israeli HMOs in their neighborhoods. Israel plans to vaccinate even more Palestinians who are in Israeli prisons.
More facts: Israel’s vaccine operation has run in predominately Arab areas in Israel from day one. Out of a concern that not enough eligible Israeli Arabs have been showing up at the vaccination sites, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited two Arab cities in recent days. (Admittedly, this dovetails with his political strategy of trying to attract Arab votes to Likud.)
In other words, there isn’t some kind of policy of ethno-religious discrimination. The opposite is true: The government is actively trying to encourage the minority population, Arab-Israelis, to get vaccinated.
Why have so many supposedly respectable outlets gotten this story wrong? There is the general adage in news that “if it bleeds, it leads,” that a feel-good news item like a successful vaccination operation will not get as much traction as a more tragic-sounding story. There are the usual reasons when it comes to anti-Israel bias in the media, about which many books have been written.
In this particular case, it looks like some reporters are being led by the nose by activists with a certain point of view. The accusation that Israel is to blame for the PA’s slower vaccine rollout has trended on activist and NGO social media in recent weeks. The reporters follow these activists, and the seed gets planted in their minds.
Considering the fact that the PA didn’t even ask for Israel’s help, it’s apparent that activists spreading the falsehoods that have since gotten into the news are not even aiming for a result that the Palestinian leadership wants; it’s all about attacking Israel.
As former Labor MK Einat Wilf wrote on Twitter: “Israel advances status of LGBTQ? ‘Pinkwashing’ Israelis lead world as vegans? ‘Veganwashing’ Israel sets up first mobile hospital in devastated Haiti? ‘Harvesting organs’ Israeli is global vaccination leader? ‘What about Palestinians?’ A bit pathetic, no?”
It should be reporters’ and editors’ jobs to see through people who are looking for any way to portray Israel in a negative light, rather than amplify their biases.
The good news is that the Foreign Ministry and UN Watch are not aware of any actions or complaints by government officials who may have fallen for this libel.
“These reports are based on a lie,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said. “Everyone who knows the facts knows that... Most of the reports on the vaccines are very, very positive.”
Luckily, in the real world, not everyone is “very online” and taking anti-Israel tweets as gospel. But the fact that the narrative echoing old antisemitic canards of Jews spreading diseases has taken root in some major media quarters is still reason for alarm.