The ‘vaccine apartheid libel’ is anti-semitism

An Israeli receives a coronavirus vaccine from medical staff at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

For the mainstream media, there are only two news narratives about Israel and its coronavirus vaccine rollout. First, that the Jewish state is the world leader in inoculating its population, having distributed millions of doses in only a matter of weeks, and second, that Israel is allegedly hoarding vaccines, denying them to Palestinians and practicing “vaccine apartheid” against its Arab minority population.

The first fact is true, and the second is pure fiction, but that has not stopped many news media outlets in Canada and around the world, plus non-news outlets like Saturday Night Live (SNL) from suggesting or claiming outright that Israel is purposefully denying coronavirus vaccines to the Palestinian Authority (PA).

While it is true that Israel has been vaccinating its own population, Jews and Arabs alike, those living under the governance of the Palestinian Authority are not subject to Israel’s health care system because, in the words of a senior official from the PA Ministry of Health: “We are not a department in the Israeli Defense Ministry. We have our own government and Ministry of Health, and they are making huge efforts to get the vaccine.”

But while Israel does not have a legal or moral obligation to vaccinate Palestinians, Israel is also a country that rarely is satisfied with doing the bare minimum.

In late February, Israel announced that it would be launching a mass vaccination campaign that would inoculate 120,000 Palestinian workers, both within Judea & Samaria (West Bank), and those working within Israel proper.

Some of the vaccines are being donated by Israel, while others are the project of a joint initiative between Israel and GAVI, an organization in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO).

Of course, for some critics, no matter what steps Israel takes to assist its Palestinian neighbours, it will never be enough.

Vaccinating only those Palestinians who come in contact with Israelis reinforces that, to Israeli authorities, Palestinian life only matters to the extent it affects Jewish life,” said Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director of Human Rights Watch, according to the National Post.

Unfortunately, Israel is damned when it does, and damned when it doesn’t. Israel is condemned widely when it vaccinated its own population with alacrity for not sharing vaccines with the Palestinian Authority, and when it did, Israel still faced opprobrium.

The reality is that with the large majority of Israelis now vaccinated, that makes the Palestinians safer, too. That means that for most Israelis, they are less likely to be spreaders of COVID 19, and as a result, less likely to pass on the deadly disease should they come into contact with Palestinians, whether in Israel proper or in Judea & Samaria.

Israel’s vaccine donations don’t end with the Palestinians, either. In addition to Israel’s donations to the Palestinian Authority, it has also begun deliveries of thousands of doses to developing countries around the world. So far, the Central American countries of Honduras and Guatemala have received vaccine doses from Israel. And while further deliveries are currently on hold due to a dispute over the proper approval procedures between the government and the Attorney General, the reality is that lives are being saved as a direct result of Israel’s steps, and that has been appreciated by the beneficiaries.

“Thanks to the people of Israel and our friend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the donation of 5,000 vaccines!” Tweeted Juan Orlando Hernández, the president of Honduras, on February 25.

Once again, as if on cue, Israel received further criticism when it shipped these vaccines to Central America.

“It is outrageous that Netanyahu would use spare vaccines to reward his foreign allies while so many Palestinians in the occupied territories are still waiting,” US Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted on February 24.

There is a popular adage misattributed to Mark Twain, which says: that “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” That is usually Israel’s experience: it is accused of a cruel act, attracting wide media attention, and when the truth comes out later, this registers rarely more than a footnote.

But now, as Israel has shown the world what a role model nation is with its mass vaccination campaign, and even by donating vials to the Palestinian Authority, it seems that even when Israel goes above and beyond its obligations, it not only receives no praise; it receives even harsher critique and rebuke.

By foisting the “vaccine apartheid” libel, Israel’s detractors hold the Jewish state to a standard of perfection that no country in the world could ever meet and single it out for exclusive censure. That is anti-Semitism.

About the Author
Mike Fegelman is Executive Director of HonestReporting Canada, a non-profit organization which ensures fair and accurate Canadian media coverage of Israel.
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