Threats from anti-vaxxers need to stop - editorial

Members of the health systems in Israel have been receiving severe threats from anti-vaxxers.

 Anti-vaccine protestors hold placards during a march against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccinations on the Sea Point promenade in Cape Town, South Africa (photo credit: REUTERS/MIKE HUTCHINGS)
Anti-vaccine protestors hold placards during a march against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccinations on the Sea Point promenade in Cape Town, South Africa
(photo credit: REUTERS/MIKE HUTCHINGS)

The coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on Israel, like the rest of the world. As of Saturday night, almost 8,100 Israelis had died due to COVID and thousands more have continued to suffer lingering or chronic side effects after contracting the virus.

However, also as of Saturday night, only some 600 new cases were reported and there were fewer than 10,000 active cases, the lowest number in three months. Just two months ago, the country was recording upwards of 5,000 cases per day.

There’s no disputing the fact that the third booster vaccine has turned things around and raised hopes that the pandemic may be on the wane for Israelis. The jabs work and they have saved lives, while at the same time, allowing us to return to a semblance of normality. Places of business are open, cafes and restaurants are beginning to make a comeback and culture is springing back to life.

The next step in securing this comeback and enabling families to travel and attend events together is the proposed vaccination of children ages five to 11.

In the wake of the US Food and Drug Administration approving the vaccine for this age cohort, Israel is moving full steam ahead to inoculate this segment of the population.

 Israel's head of public health Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis is seen speaking at the Jerusalem Post annual conference at the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, on October 12, 2021. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV) Israel's head of public health Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis is seen speaking at the Jerusalem Post annual conference at the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, on October 12, 2021. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

One can be in favor of the COVID vaccine or – as a minority of the population here is – against taking the jab. Although there is every reason in the world to do so, Israelis are free to make their own choice and decide to face the hardships that lack of a Green Pass includes. It’s irresponsible and puts other citizens at risk, but there is no obligation to get inoculated.

That’s why it is unfathomable that the Health Ministry’s director of Public Health, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, is required to have a security detail protecting her after the police determined that she faces the highest level of risk amid incitement from anti-vaxxers. According to the police, the threats have been ongoing for months.

Her husband, Dr. Meir Preis, brought the issue to the forefront last week when he tweeted: “There are concrete threats to the life of my wife… messages on social networks, there are phone numbers, there are explicitly threatening calls.”

Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Nachman Ash said that Alroy-Preis wasn’t the only health official being targeted. In a letter last month announcing a 24-hour hotline for employees to report cases of defamation and intimidation, he wrote: “We have recently witnessed extreme statements toward healthcare workers coming from opponents of the actions being taken by the state to eradicate the coronavirus, most prominently from vaccine opponents.”

Ash added that sometimes the criticism crosses the threshold of “legitimate discussion and may impair the resilience of the system’s workers.”

When disagreements explode into irrational behavior, it’s an indication that common sense and civility have been replaced by unhinged rhetoric and borderline anarchy.

On the other end of the spectrum, acknowledging the questions and uncertainty that parents are facing over vaccinating their children, the Health Ministry will publicly broadcast a meeting of their advisory committee on Thursday at 3 p.m. in an effort to let the public witness the discussions taking place surrounding vaccinating kids under age 12. People can submit questions at  https://survey.gov.il/he/pandemicexperts by Tuesday at 9 a.m.

This is the way a progressive society deals with issues that are of paramount importance to the populace – by reasoned discussion, science and facts, not through death threats or bullying.

As we approach the anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin this week, it’s all the more important to remember how easy it is for a threat to culminate in an act of violence.

We never thought that such depraved acts could take place until they did. It’s commendable that the threats against Alroy-Preis are being taken seriously. But it’s abominable that such threats are being made in the first place against someone who has done so much in the fight against COVID and her selfless colleagues.

Anti-vaxxers can refuse to get the jab. They can’t impose their militant views on others via threats or any other means.