Why Israel’s anti-vax party is a cautionary tale

In the first quarter of 2019 alone, more than 110,000 measles cases were reported worldwide, several thousand of which were in Israel.

Dr. Arieh Avni, noted anti-vaccination coercion activist, is seen with the logo of his new "Rapeh" Party, which hopes to "heal" Israel's heathcare system. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dr. Arieh Avni, noted anti-vaccination coercion activist, is seen with the logo of his new "Rapeh" Party, which hopes to "heal" Israel's heathcare system.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Of the 39 parties running in Israel’s upcoming Knesset election, the one that least deserves a seat, which it has no chance of garnering in any case, is Rapeh (“Heal”).
Headed by Aryeh Avni, a physician whose license was recently revoked, the newly formed faction is waging war on the country’s coronavirus vaccination drive. More precisely, it is leading a movement against what it deems the government’s “coercion campaign” against the public.
Avni and his followers purport that the reason for his ouster from the medical profession is solely due to his warnings about the dangers of the COVID-19 and other vaccines. In fact, he’s been on the Health Ministry’s radar for years, and has had his license temporarily suspended on a number of occasions.
He has a history of condemning colleagues, particularly oncologists. Indeed, it’s not only vaccines that he opposes; he’s none too fond of chemotherapy and other accepted methods of treatment, either.
Since the onset of the pandemic, however, he’s been especially vociferous in his denunciation of any peer who takes the coronavirus seriously, continues to call on the populace to ignore all directives, and vilifies the vaccine.
In his decision to strip Avni of the right to practice medicine, retired judge Amnon Strashnov stated, “There is no doubt that his harsh and blatant statements in articles he published on his website, Facebook and recently also on YouTube against the coronavirus vaccination pose a real danger to public safety and health. Add to this his unbridled, blatant and baseless insults to the medical community and the heads of the Health Ministry, which go far beyond what is reasonable and permissible in the context of freedom of expression, and you have a clear view of the absolute anarchy that [he] is trying to create.”
Finally, wrote Strashnov, “Perhaps for the esteemed Dr. Avni, the coronavirus is a curiosity or a ‘joke,’ but not for the thousands of patients, the dead and their relatives who have been afflicted by this terrible disease.”
THIS SERVED only to strengthen the resolve and convictions of Avni and his acolytes. To highlight their displeasure, they are set to stage a demonstration outside the Knesset on Saturday night against what one Facebook user called “the current government’s medical coercion that has divided the country, by actively inciting with words and actions a shaming policy, threatening to turn a large proportion of Israelis into second-class citizens, with threats of restrictions and other punishments. Doctors will protest the official ban on compassionate outpatient [care]... causing their patients’ health to deteriorate [by] being ambulanced to hospital for lack of early prevention – a clear medical crime and [in violation of the] sacred Hippocratic Oath. Lawyers will make the case that actions taken by the government are potentially [in violation of] international law, including the Helsinki Convention and the Geneva Convention of Human Rights.”
The above protest comes on the heels of a suit filed earlier this month with the International Criminal Court (ICC) by a group of Israeli anti-vaxxers. Called Anshei Emet (“People of Truth”), this little-known entity argued that the Netanyahu government’s distribution and encouragement of the COVID-19 vaccine is a “crime against humanity” as per the Nuremberg Code.
Using as a reference point the code of ethics created as a result of the sadistic tests conducted on concentration inmates by the likes of Dr. Josef Mengele, Anshei Emet said the State of Israel’s agreement with Pfizer was based on citizens unwittingly being used as lab rats for the pharma giant’s global experiment, and purposely kept in the dark about anything related to the vaccine.
The analogy is not only invalid; it’s immoral, especially given the ICC ruling last month that it has the jurisdiction to investigate “war crimes” that the Palestinian Authority alleges Israel has been committing in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
NOR IS the Holocaust comparison new to the anti-vaxxer movement. At a demonstration in Tel Aviv earlier this month, hundreds of Israelis with banners equating the “green pass” for vaccinees with apartheid, said separating the inoculated from those who refuse the shots is similar to how the Nazis singled out Jews by forcing them to wear yellow Stars of David on their clothing. At a previous rally, some participants actually sported yellow stars with the words “not vaccinated” on them.
The odious parallel was actually born in the United States by the Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN), which uses the yellow Star of David, with the words “No Vax” in a Hebrew-like font, as a logo. ICAN founder and CEO Del Bigtree wrote and produced the 2016 documentary, Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe.
The director of the film was Dr. Andrew Wakefield, whose 1998 article in the medical journal The Lancet promoting the lie that vaccines cause autism would cost him his license 12 years later, when his research was revealed to be fraudulent. Nevertheless, ICAN’s well-funded efforts continue unabated.
Not only that. Bigtree was one of the main speakers at a November 21, 2019 conference in Tel Aviv, organized by the group Hisunim-bhira muskelet (“Vaccines-an educated choice”).
The ad for the “international convention, the first of its kind in Israel,” read, in part, “Great forces are keeping us out of the public discourse; they’re afraid for us to make our own decisions about our children, preventing our doctors from a wide range of research and existing facts.... Whatever the system is trying to hide, we will expose, with the help of a variety of the world’s expert researchers and physicians. The pharmaceutical companies employ the largest PR firms in Israel, as well as dozens of lobbyists, and exert pressure on the media. Interest groups are trying to present us as crazy.... Don’t succumb to their powerful propaganda campaign.... Do your own research, read and learn, for the sake of all our children.”
THE LARGE gathering took place a mere two-and-a-half months before anyone other than scientists had even heard of COVID-19. But it was held in the midst of a different global health crisis: the return of the measles.
In the first quarter of 2019 alone, more than 110,000 measles cases were reported worldwide, several thousand of which were in Israel. As a result, El Al set up a special inoculation station at Ben-Gurion Airport to vaccinate its employees. The makeshift clinic was created after the Health Ministry ordered all local airlines to vaccinate their staff, and urged travelers to get both shots of the vaccine before embarking on trips abroad.
The edict came after a healthy 43-year-old flight attendant contracted measles during a flight from New York and fell into a coma upon landing in Israel. A similar thing happened to a 10-year-old boy. A few months earlier, two Israelis – a toddler and a senior citizen – died of the disease.
If not for the outbreak of the pandemic, the unnecessary disintegration of the herd immunity that Israel had achieved against measles would likely still be a hot topic. The efficacy of inoculation in general – as well as the great success of the COVID-19 vaccine – is one issue that enjoys wide consensus among Israeli politicians, academics and members of the media, regardless of party affiliation.
And rightly so. The shots have turned out to provide 97% protection against severe cases of the virus and 94% against asymptomatic ones. The point is that the vaccine is working, with the nationwide rate of infection and number of critically ill patients steadily on the decline.
Rather than celebrating, vocal anti-vaxxers are not only disregarding this happy development; they are openly disputing it. This wouldn’t matter if their endeavor didn’t have the potential to jeopardize the achievement of herd immunity against coronavirus. Nor does the fact that the party representing them has no chance of entering the 24th Knesset. What its voters do have is disproportionate power over the rest of the nation’s well-being.