Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

Israeli innovation in the face of COVID-19 conspiracy theories and antisemitism

Infographic of the Israeli coronavirus innovation landscape (Accessed via www.coronatech.org.il/covid-19-startup-landscape)

One story that grabbed a little international attention this past week was about a study on conspiracy theories out of Oxford University. While NPR reported how three in five believe their government is misleading them and one in five think the virus is a hoax, Newsweek and Daily Express (and the Jewish press) dug in a bit more, reported that one in five Brits believe that Jews created COVID-19. Even without quantifying what is going on in England, we know antisemitism in the U.S. is the highest ever on record and is growing everywhere, as are conspiracy theories. On Tuesday, PBS will be airing a new documentary, Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations, which likens the spread of antisemitism to that of an illness. All I know is that the intersection between antisemitism and the growth of COVID-19 conspiracy theories is worrisome. As The Oxford study showed, people who believe in these theories tend not to observe social distancing or wear masks. As the virus spreads, so will their antipathy towards whomever they blame.

I read some other headlines in The Times of Israel and elsewhere – stories of good news, of innovation, of trying to invest energy not in blaming others using cries of liberty while endangering fellow members of society but in trying to find multi-pronged ways to lessen the damage of this insidious virus. Thought I’d share some with you.

An Israeli filed for a US patent for his innovative USB-powered technology for turning disposable masks into self-cleaning masks. This could be a boon to hospitals and to the environment.

And then there is the Israeli polymer disinfectant which could keep surfaces virus-free for months at a time. Scientists are at an advanced stage in its development, has not yet been peer-reviewed but hopes to be in manufacturing by year end. This could be a game changer for public spaces, like mass transit and schools.

Among the multiplicity of COVID-19 test kits, antibody test kits and antigen test kits, there are a few Israeli products in the works. The Technion’s rapid home test for the virus should be rolled out shortly. Ben Gurion University of the Negev’s device can innovatively test one’s breath or nasal or throat swaps and return results in under a minute. It is undergoing validation now and should be in production in the fall. Elsewhere an Israeli team found an antibody which can attack the virus; once they are done patenting it, they will seek an international company to partner with.

Another way to combat spread is to identify where it is going or who is more likely to be harder hit. Israel’s largest health fund (like an insurance company) partnered with a company whose algorithm can analyze anonymized patient data to help detect higher risk for complications. If one of those patients contacts a doctor with any related symptom, he or she will be immediately tested. The company is talking to interested American providers now too. As well, health officials are monitoring the country’s sewage; wastewater can serve as a flag for a possible second wave.

Other apps use your location or your voice to detect if you are increased danger of COVID-19. Another round up of innovations from a fellow Times of Israel blogger Josia Nakash listed about half a dozen additional COVID-19 initiatives involving Israeli start-ups. In fact, a story about a new portal for Israeli technological COVID-19 innovations makes the point that Israel has not only taken up the challenge to prevent, monitor, and address the threat of COVID-19, but it also embraces the concept of information sharing and collaborating for the benefit of everyone.

The portal, CoronaTech Israel, currently has listed on its site 105 initiatives, 282 companies, 23 challenges, 163 events and 33 funding opportunities. Check it out.

Though both antisemitism and COVID-19 conspiracy theories are on the rise and though their intersection makes me increasingly nervous for the safety and wellbeing of my fellow Jews everywhere, I welcome having the opportunity to see an abundance of the kind of news stories I prefer to read about – the stories that show how Israel is not letting any bad news stop it from facing the challenges of this virus head on and making the world a healthier place.

About the Author
Wendy Kalman, MPA, MA, serves as Director of Education and Advocacy Resources for Hadassah The Women's Zionist Organization of America, Inc. Previous roles include senior academic researcher for an Israel education nonprofit, knowledge manager at a large multinational as well as roles in marketing and publishing in the US and in Israel. She has presented papers at political science and communications conferences and has participated as a scholar-in-residence at an academic workshop on antisemitism. Wendy lived in Israel for over a decade and is a dual citizen, fluent in Hebrew.
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