Photo: Amos Ben Gershom, Government Press Office (Israel)/Wikimedia Commons

2020-2021 George Mason University CAMERA Fellow Sean Culley

It seems like some people want to downplay Israeli success at all costs.

Such is the case with Israel’s outstanding COVID-19 vaccination rollout. More than 60 percent of its population has received at least one dose of the vaccine. With this level of success, one would expect Israel to be in the same conversation as countries that have effectively managed their responses to the global pandemic, like South Korea and New Zealand.

Instead, attention is focused on making baseless claims against Israel. Critics say Israel is denying vaccinations to Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which even includes “medical staff, the elderly, and immunocompromised.” These false claims have been parroted by organizations such as Amnesty International and anti-Zionist movements such as BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions).

But it’s not Israel’s responsibility to vaccinate Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Annex III, Article 17 of the 1995 Oslo Interim Accords clearly states that “the powers and responsibilities in the sphere of health in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip will be transferred to the Palestinian side.” The accords clarifiy further: “The Palestinian side shall continue to apply the present standard of vaccinations of Palestinians and shall improve them according to internationally accepted standard in the field.”

Spreading falsehoods that make it seem like Jews are responsible for disease is nothing new. Eugene Kontorovich, professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School, has stated that “pandemics throughout history have seen Jews blamed for the spread of disease. Today, such claims are dressed in legal robes.” The Oslo Accords make it clear what the law is, and the critics are wrong.

While Israel has no obligation to provide vaccinations for Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, it is responsible for Arab Israelis within its territory. They have been vaccinated at very high rates just like Israel’s Jewish population. The Israeli Health Ministry has reported that 59 percent of Arab Israelis over the age of 60 have received the vaccination with efforts to vaccinate the rest of the population ramping up. Vaccine hesitancy is the barrier to a more prolific vaccination campaign for Arab Israelis, not discrimination.

One accusation levied against Israel by Amnesty International is that “Israeli lives are valued above Palestinian ones” since, allegedly, “millions of Palestinians living under Israeli control in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will receive no vaccine or have to wait much longer” during Israel’s “record-setting vaccination drive.”

This slander even made an appearance during the Feb. 20 airing of Saturday Night Live on NBC. During the broadcast, Michael Che joked that Israel has exclusively vaccinated its “Jewish half.” Such a “joke” plays into the antisemitic trope that Jews are responsible for plagues. The false accusation that Jews are “denying vaccinations” to Palestinains has been, as CAMERA’s Ricki Hollander has argued, a “propaganda opportunity to vilify Israel.”

This instance is not the first time NBC has given an air of legitimacy to the false narrative that Israel is legally responsible for the vaccination of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. In a Jan. 3 NBC article, Paul Goldman and Saphora Smith noted that Israel has “[prompted] criticism” that it is allegedly “not meeting its legal obligations” to vaccinate Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, even though Gaza residents are under the control of Hamas, and the vast majority of West Bank Palestinians are ruled by the Palestinian Authority.

Despite this, Israel has provided COVID-19 testing kits, training, medical supplies and, recently, thousands of vaccinations to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza despite having no legal obligation to do so. In fact, “Israel has given the jab to more Palestinians than neighboring countries where Palestinians reside,” according to the Jerusalem Post’s Seth Frantzman.

It is worth noting that Israel could be sending more vaccinations to Palestinians if the PA were willing to negotiate when Israel was ordering vaccine doses. The Jerusalem Post’s Lahov Harkov reported in early January that “the Palestinian leadership refused to even talk to Israel when the latter was ordering vaccine doses, let alone coordinate a complex rollout operation.”

It also doesn’t help that the PA continues to indulge its “pay-for-slay” practices. The Palestinian Authority decided to give a 50 percent pay raise to two terrorists. The duo gruesomely murdered Ruth and Udi Fogel and three of their six children, including the decapitation of their youngest child who was just three months old. That money could be used for vaccine procurement, but it seems the PA’s priorities are elsewhere.

Baselessly accusing Israel of discrimination against Palestinians is an irresponsible practice that invites irresponsible dialogue. These accusations are frequently the foundation of antisemitic tropes that do more harm than good to marginalized groups. Instead of undermining the success of the Israeli vaccination program, the world should look at Israel as the gold standard for an effective healthcare system that adequately meets the needs of its citizens.

Originally published in the Fourth Estate.

Contributed by 2020-2021 George Mason University CAMERA Fellow Sean Culley.

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