Miss Universe: Israel has no time for PR amid Omicron - editorial

Few people are wondering what Eilat looks like; many more are wondering why Israel allowed an international beauty pageant to take place within its borders while it is not allowing foreigners entry.

 Miss Universe contestants are seen in Jerusalem, on November 30, 2021. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Miss Universe contestants are seen in Jerusalem, on November 30, 2021.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The Israeli Embassy in the United States posted on Facebook this week what can only be described as a strange video.

This is the arm of the Israeli government and Foreign Service responsible for cultivating ties with the American people and of course, at its core, the largest and strongest Jewish community outside the State of Israel.

The video showed the city of Eilat, the beaches, hotels, nearby mountains and deserts. Its purpose, the post said, was “For those wondering where the Miss Universe competition was held this week – here’s a glimpse of Eilat!”

It was strange because there are probably very few people wondering what Eilat looks like and actually many more people who are wondering why Israel allowed an international beauty pageant to take place within its borders at a time that it is not allowing foreigners, including family of citizens, to enter the country.

It was a strange video because it was unclear what Israel was trying to show. Israel is closed to the world but most of the world is not closed to Israel. So while Americans cannot enter Israel, Israelis can still enter America.

 Travellers wear protective face masks at Terminal 3, Ben Gurion International Airport, as Israel restricts air travel more, on August 05, 2021.  (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90) Travellers wear protective face masks at Terminal 3, Ben Gurion International Airport, as Israel restricts air travel more, on August 05, 2021. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

Beyond the lack of logic behind the restrictions and the callousness with which the government is rejecting requests to enter, this situation is causing what might turn into irreparable damage to the relationship between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora.

It is true that Israel is a sovereign nation that has to put its citizens first when considering courses of action to protect them, whether from Hamas terrorism in Gaza, nuclear weapons in Iran or the Omicron coronavirus variant.

That doesn’t mean, though, that it needs to act without common sense. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, for example, visited the United Arab Emirates last week for a historic meeting with Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed. Two days after he returned, though, he oversaw the meeting during which the government decided to declare the UAE a red state. Is that smart timing from a diplomatic perspective?

And to a large extent that seems to be what is happening now with the government restrictions on air travel, mall visits and public events. Half the world is already closed to Israel and more will close soon. Green Passes are needed at malls and now there is already talk of limiting the size of public events.

The government’s strategy seems to be an attempt to buy some time before Omicron hits in a big way and use that time to get more people vaccinated. The problem is that people who are not yet vaccinated are not afraid of this new variant as well. On Friday, for example, some vaccination centers in Jerusalem were completely empty, with only a handful of people coming to get vaccinated or inoculate their children.

Vaccines have been around now for over a year, and if someone has not yet been jabbed, it is not because they haven’t heard about it, don’t know where to go or can’t find the time. It is a conscious ideological decision by the person who is saying they are either opposed to the vaccine or don’t believe it is necessary and that it is better to get sick and create natural immunity to the virus.

That is their right, just like it is the right of the people who have been fully immunized to go about living their lives without the restrictions that have strangled large aspects of family and business life over the last two years.

While vaccines are reported to be less effective against Omicron, they still provide a level of protection and help keep the course of the illness mild. A booster shot improves the efficacy more, even though with just two shots the World Health Organization has yet to see an increase in the potential to cause severe disease, hospitalization or death.

The government in Jerusalem, like others around the world, is doing what it believes is right to stop the spread of the virus. That is fine. Just don’t make promotional videos pretending that life is normal. It isn’t.