My Word: The vaccination and an old plague

In the blood libels of the past, Jews were usually accused of spreading disease, not withholding the cure.

A WOMAN waits to receive a vaccination against coronavirus in Umm el-Fahm on Sunday. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
A WOMAN waits to receive a vaccination against coronavirus in Umm el-Fahm on Sunday.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
I seem to be suffering from a strange side effect in the wake of Israel’s coronavirus vaccination program: flashbacks.
Israel has become the envy of many other countries as it rolled out its impressive mass vaccination plan and swiftly gave some 1.5 million citizens the first dose within three weeks. Global media picked up the story and Israel’s nickname was changed from Start-Up Nation to Vaccination Nation.
With the media attention came envy and then the most painful jab of the project. Praise for Israel’s organization of the mass vaccination campaign was diluted in several major media by condemnation for not vaccinating Palestinians. As The Jerusalem Post’s Lahav Harkov noted, an NPR headline read: “As Israel leads in COVID-19 vaccines per capita, Palestinians still await shots” while an Associated Press story that did the rounds in various news outlets stated: “Palestinians left waiting as Israel is set to deploy COVID-19 vaccine.” The media watch group Honest Reporting Canada noted several CBC stories with the same angle. And the Camera UK media watchdog had a busy time calling on both The Times and Telegraph to fix stories which similarly suggested that Israel was shirking responsibility for vaccinating Palestinians in the Palestinian Authority areas.
I first became aware of the slant with a report in Britain’s The Observer, a sister publication of The Guardian. The headline was as subtle as being punched on the sore spot on my post-vaccination arm: “Palestinians excluded from Israeli Covid vaccine rollout as jabs go to settlers.”
I suppose you could call this progress. In the blood libels of the past, Jews were usually accused of spreading disease, not withholding the cure.
And this started triggering the flashbacks: I remembered how when Israeli medical teams rushed to help earthquake victims in Haiti in 2010, the Jewish state was accused of wanting to harvest organs. The more charitable version was that Israel was only helping Haiti to divert attention from its relations with its Palestinian neighbors.
In certain circles it’s not done to praise Israel without burying it. Last week’s Guardian piece was written by Oliver Holmes in Jerusalem and Hazem Balousha in Gaza. The double byline itself indicates double standards. While Israel would love to vaccinate its citizens in Gaza, they comprise two civilians being held captive without even Red Cross visits and the bodies of two soldiers kidnapped during a ceasefire in Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Flashback No. 2: Amid the rocket attacks that had Israelis sticking close to shelters for some six weeks that summer, Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, seemed to call for Israel to share the Iron Dome protection system with the Palestinians in Gaza.
Human rights groups, afraid of missing an opportunity to bash Israel, are accusing Israel “of dodging obligations to millions in occupied territories who may wait months for vaccination,” in the words of The Guardian.
As the Post’s Jeremy Sharon noted, the Rabbis for Human Rights organization drew up a petition on December 24 calling on Israel to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine “in parallel – with as much importance and urgency – in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” The petition was signed by some 200 rabbis.
The main problem is the combination of unrighteous indignation combined with hyphenation: The world has become used to seeing Israel and the Palestinians as one entity, forever linked in the name of balance.
But here’s the rub. It’s true that Israel is not vaccinating the Palestinians who live in Palestinian Authority areas – recognized by 139 UN members as The State of Palestine. That’s because they are not Israeli citizens and they don’t pay membership in Israeli health funds. They come under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian health authorities. And even The Guardian noted halfway through the article that the PA “has not officially asked for help from Israel.” Now, however, it seems Israel is supplying them with a limited quantity of the vaccine.
Demanding Israel vaccinate all Palestinians living under PA or Hamas rule makes as much sense as expecting India to mass immunize Pakistanis or the US to vaccinate Mexicans and perhaps Cubans for good measure.
It’s not clear what group of Israeli taxpayers should forgo their chance to get vaccinated against the deadly disease in favor of Palestinian non-citizens: Teachers? Police officers? Bus drivers? Supermarket and store workers?
It’s extraordinary that Palestinians and their cheerleaders can support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement until it wants Israeli help. More flashbacks: PLO politician Saeb Erekat came to Jerusalem to be treated by Israeli doctors when he contracted COVID-19 and family members of former Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh were treated in a top-notch Tel Aviv medical center before and after the 2014 Gaza war and terrorism campaign.
The recent Abraham Accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and the normalization agreements with Morocco and Sudan show that there is a better way to move forward. Pandering to the narrative that the Middle East must revolve around Palestinian needs is not the way to go. Another flashback: In June, three months before the Abraham Accords were signed, PA President Mahmoud Abbas refused to accept a shipment of medical aid and supplies to help with the coronavirus crisis because it had been transported by the UAE’s Etihad Airways via Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport. The Palestinian anti-normalization policy can be lethal.
THE IMAGE of a racist Jewish Israeli government deliberately withholding vaccines from Muslims was so far from the truth it exists only in a parallel universe – or at least cyberspace and Twittersphere.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as part of a two-pronged campaign to encourage vaccinations and to promote his image as world-class leader ahead of the fourth election in two years, took to the road last week, visiting the Arab Israeli towns of Tira and Umm el-Fahm.
“We brought millions of vaccines here, more than any other country in the world relative to its population and we brought them to everyone: Jews and Arabs, religious and secular. Everyone can – and needs to – be vaccinated,” Netanyahu declared.
Pride comes before a downfall. In Umm el-Fahm, Netanyahu was on hand to personally congratulate the one millionth person to receive the vaccination in the country. It was a photo op that became a photo oops, as one wag put it.
Two days after 66-year-old Mohammed Jabarin was proudly pictured alongside the prime minister, it turned out that he was not exactly a model citizen. KAN radio initially mistakenly reported that Jabarin had served 20 years in prison for manslaughter. Under the circumstances, the prime minister must have been relieved when it later clarified that Jabarin had served a lesser term, “only” for armed robbery and other offenses.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, responding to the initial report, said: “This is the best proof that we are not putting on an act.... Everyone gets vaccinated. The good, the bad, the one who was a prisoner and the one who was not a prisoner. The best citizen in the country and the one you wouldn’t want to be friends with.”
Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, incidentally, are scheduled to be vaccinated along with Israeli and foreign inmates of all religions.
In Jerusalem, where many Arab residents belong to Israeli health funds even if they do not hold citizenship, the vaccination program is in full swing.
Accusing Israel of an apartheid vaccination program is more than a cheap shot, it’s part of delegitimization campaign that far from encouraging peace does exactly the opposite.
When The Simon Wiesenthal Center last month unveiled its list of 2020’s top 10 worst antisemitic incidents, it noted the “weaponization” of the COVID-19 pandemic and said that as early as February 2020, “far-right extremists across social media platforms blamed Jews and Asian Americans for the virus.”
Throughout the year, there was a rise in antisemitic incidents globally. But this is not a result of anything new. A flashback in communal memory: As the The Simon Wiesenthal Center points out, “Anti-Semites have blamed Jews for the medieval Black Plague to the WWI Spanish Flu.”
Sadly, there is no inoculation against hatred or stupidity.
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