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‘Vaccine apartheid’ – the latest anti-Israel libel

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Mike Shingange, the first deputy president of the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU), lambasted Israel for “war crimes and violation of international law” in relation to vaccines in an opinion piece on Eyewitness News (EWN) last Thursday, 4 March.

“Apartheid Israel has never cared for the lives of Palestinians, and the outbreak of coronavirus has further highlighted the sheer disregard for the lives of the Palestinian people,” he wrote. “The outbreak of the virus has exacerbated the problems faced by the people of Gaza.”

Israel continues to be demonised the world over as it forges ahead with its vaccination rollout. Accusations of “vaccine apartheid”, refusal to assist Palestinians, and other falsities abound, all the while ignoring the true extent to which the Jewish state is, in fact, offering help to the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Shingange accuses “apartheid Israel” of blockading vaccines destined for healthcare workers in the Gaza Strip, saying it is “one of the biggest atrocities that hasn’t received the attention it deserves, and it continues unabated due to the deafening silence of the international community”.

He further asserts that Israel hasn’t offered any of its own vaccines to a struggling Palestinian healthcare infrastructure which “has been demolished by countless Israel military attacks”.

He goes on to write, “As an occupying power, apartheid Israel has vehemently refused to share its stock with Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“The Israeli government has failed to ensure that the occupied territories have adequate medical supplies, including a comprehensive plan for infection control and prevention.”

Shingange’s accusation about the “blockade” of vaccines comes weeks after the issue was resolved. In February, Palestinian officials accused Israel of preventing the first shipment of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine (co-developed by Israel’s Hadassah Hospital together with Russia’s health authorities) from entering the Gaza Strip. Israeli legislators reportedly feared that the vaccines would land in the hands of Hamas, but ultimately approved the transfer within two days. A vaccination drive has since been launched in the Gaza region.

Shingange’s allegations about Israel’s refusal to assist the Palestinians have no basis in fact, says Sara Gon, policy fellow at the Institute of Race Relations.

“If Israel were an individual, this letter would be defamatory,” she told the SA Jewish Report. “I would challenge him to cite all his sources.

“Shingange clearly knows nothing about the fact that the Palestinians are administratively autonomous. He knows nothing about Oslo, and is repeating falsehoods that have already been debunked.”

Rowan Polovin, the national chairperson of the South African Zionist Federation, agrees. “NEHAWU’s malicious comment on this issue should be rejected with the contempt that it deserves,” he says. “The spread of medical-related blood libels against the Jewish people has a dangerous history, and we strongly reject this malevolent libel against the Jewish state.”

Vaccine-inspired accusations against Israel are sadly further expression of anti-Israel and antisemitic rhetoric within the context of the pandemic, says Gon.

“COVID-19 has produced a range of libels that have one common element: the Jews, the Zionists, and/or the state of Israel are to blame for the pandemic or stand to gain from it,” she says.

According to Gon, in the first week of January, Sky News, CNN, and the BBC News channel all misrepresented the story about Israel and COVID-19 vaccinations and Israel’s alleged obligation and failure to vaccinate Palestinians. This contradicts the Oslo Accords, which affirms the legal administration of the PA over the Gaza Strip and Palestinian areas of the West Bank, including healthcare services and vaccinations.

Says Gon, “Israeli media monitors, lawyers, journalists and others have pointed out that Israel has no such obligation because Palestinian Arabs aren’t Israeli citizens.”

Says Polovin, “Under the Oslo Accords, the Palestinians are accountable for the vaccination of the population under their control. Palestinian officials have themselves repeatedly confirmed this point. The PA has been able to procure vaccines from a variety of sources including the COVAX [COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access] facility in the same way South Africa does.”

Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Lior Keinan, stressed that the Oslo Accords granted the PA full autonomy and responsibility.

“Israel cannot decide what the PA can buy or from where,” he says. “Imagine if we dictated to the PA on its health system, telling it which vaccines to take.

“We cannot win either way. If Israel does nothing, it’s blamed. If it does anything, it’s also blamed.”

“Israel will ensure that whatever medical supplies need to enter Gaza, will enter. The fact that it may not arrive relates not to Israel but to those who control Gaza. When corrupt terrorists like Hamas are in control, do you really believe supplies will go to where they are needed most?”

Indeed, reports have emerged that the Palestinian leadership has siphoned off some of the vaccines that have arrived in Gaza to date, distributing them amongst the ranks of the ruling party only. Israel, on the other hand, has reportedly vaccinated more Arab Muslim men, women, and children as a percent of its total population than any other Arab country in the Middle East region.

While Israel is under no obligation to do so, it has made a concerted effort to assist Gaza with its vaccination programme in spite of repeated refusals and illogical decisions.

“In 2020, the PA refused planeloads and millions of dollars of healthcare assistance from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to fight COVID-19 because the UAE planes landed at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport,” says Gon. “The PA tried to obtain an entire vaccine inventory free of charge, but international organisations and state powers were unwilling to comply. So, Israel supplied PA government officials with an initial batch.”

About 20% of necessary vaccines are expected to be donated to the PA, she says.

“Holding out for free vaccines accounted for months-long delays in PA acquisition,” Gon says. “Had the PA asked Israel for assistance, it would be farther along in vaccinating its public.”

Polovin agrees. “Not only has Israel provided the Palestinians with thousands of doses out of its own stockpile, it has worked to facilitate a supply of the vaccine to the PA from other sources, including [so far] 10 000 doses from Russia, and 37 000 doses from the World Health Organization.”

A plan is also in place for Israel to inoculate about 100 000 Palestinian workers from the country’s own supply, and Jerusalem is part of an effort to help procure about four million more doses from the government in Moscow. Still, the Palestinians continue to reject much of the assistance.

“The media have simply ignored these facts, and continue to promulgate the vaccine libel against Israel,” says Gon. “In a grotesque inversion of roles, the Palestinians have now belatedly jumped on the Israel-demonisation bandwagon that the Western media have provided for them.”

Therefore, Shingange is simply perpetuating a false narrative, says Keinan.

“Why should we address open lies that have nothing to do with reality?” he says. “Instead of writing these claims, perhaps Shingange should ask whether a worker’s union like his could be allowed to exist in Gaza under Hamas. It is the reason why vaccines aren’t reaching people.”

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Israel’s vaccination rules may hinder South Africans, olim advocate says

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Travelling to Israel may get easier soon, but with some rules that could hold South Africans back. According to former member of the Knesset (MK) Dov Lipman, from 1 November 2021, travellers to Israel may have to have a third booster shot, or have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 within six months of their visit. “Those who were vaccinated more than six months ago may have a challenge in entering Israel. We are trying to influence the decision for the better,” he says.

As some time has passed since most South African Jews received their vaccines, and with no possibility of a third booster shot being offered anytime soon, this may make travelling to Israel difficult. Lipman is concerned that tourists who have access to third booster shots may be able to travel to Israel, but relatives of olim may be left out in the cold. Ironically, those who got vaccinated earliest may have the most difficulty, which he said is a “sad” reality.

Not all superheroes wear capes – some of them wear kippot – and Lipman is doing everything he can to stop this from happening. His organisation, Yad L’Olim, works to help olim thrive in Israel and lobbies the Knesset to drive government policies that provide new immigrants with the tools that they need to succeed in Israel.

Lipman did just that in a speech to the Knesset on 12 October. Addressing ministers and MKs, he said, “Right now, they are talking about a new plan. They are talking about tourists who will come from all over the world. There are countries with Zionistic Jews whose family members made aliyah. And they have no ability to get the third vaccine dose. They have no ability to get it. So what’s going to happen? We’re going to have a state filled with tourists from all around the world who don’t have any special connection to Israel, and I am happy that they will come.

“But families who supported their family member’s decision to move to Israel won’t have the ability to come here. There must be an outcry from Knesset, from MKs and ministers, not to allow this to happen,” he said. “Yes, open the country to tourists, that’s fine, I have no problem with that. But let there be a plan. Actually, continue with the current policy enabling relatives who cannot get a third shot to come, and especially for there to be a true exceptions committee.

“There should be an easy to use link for those who have family weddings, Bar/Batmitzvahs or births. You cannot close the door on olim and their families when you are opening the door to tourists. I call on all of you to be our voices and take care of this.”

Lipman says that though Prime Minister Naftali Bennett wasn’t there when he spoke, “two MKs from his party were, and we’re now following up on what I said”. He says olim are already coming to him with concerns that their families may not be able to visit.

“We’re trying to make sure that they have the right balance of not shutting the door on everyone while changing the rules. Things are still in flux regarding final decisions. I’m recommending to anyone who can get a shot [vaccine], whether it’s a booster, or their first one, or someone who has recovered [from COVID-19] last year, if you can get one, I’m recommending that. Because it will ease your ability to get into Israel after 1 November, and that would apply even if you didn’t have a first-degree relative in Israel.”

He says he spoke out because “I’m concerned that there’s no mechanism in place for first-degree relatives to visit if they haven’t been vaccinated according to Israel’s requirements. And I believe that if people are going to undergo a full quarantine, testing, and the like, then there should be an option.

“Israel needs to be a place where olim know that their families can come. And yes, we have to take health concerns into account, and I’m not suggesting therefore just to open things up. But we shouldn’t rule out the possibility of families of olim coming. I also know that there are exceptions for weddings and births, and things like that, but the process has been complicated and not easy to use. I’d rather make it as user-friendly as possible for the benefit of olim and their families.”

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Israel’s status on agenda of AU executive

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On the eve of the meeting of the Executive Council of the African Union (AU) this week, there has been much speculation about whether Israel’s recent granting of observer status will be debated, and if calls for the decision to be rescinded will be heard.

The announcement in July that Israel had been granted observer status at the AU drew sharp reaction from several countries on the continent, including South Africa.

Last week, International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) Minister Naledi Pandor met her Palestinian counterpart, Riad Malki, and again expressed dissatisfaction with Israel’s status. (See story on page 1.)

During the official bilateral talks held at Dirco, Pandor said South Africa wasn’t party to the AU’s “shocking” decision to grant Israel observer status.

In July, Pretoria moved swiftly to lobby other Southern African Development Community states against the decision.

Many said the decision had been taken unilaterally by AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, and expressed solidarity with Palestine.

Out of 55 member states, 46 enjoy diplomatic relations with Israel. There are about 17 member countries opposing observer status.

It’s understood that the matter was placed on the agenda of the AU executive council following complaints by some member states.

Professor Hussein Solomon of the University of the Free State wrote recently that South Africa was “out of sync” with the views of most African heads of state. “Isolating Israel won’t work in promoting the well-being of Palestinians. This was tried for decades by Arab countries and has failed.”

Jean-Pierre Alumba Lukamba, the international director of the African Diaspora for Development, (ADD), told the SA Jewish Report this week that according to the guiding principles of the AU, Israel should be at the opening of the AU’s executive council meeting this week as an observer member for the first time in nearly 20 years.

The ADD has reiterated its call to African heads of state to maintain unanimously the admission of the state of Israel as an observer member.

In a statement, the ADD said, “The African people will derive great benefit from the state of Israel, which has notably established agricultural co-operatives, youth training centres, and medical facilities in countries such as Ghana, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and Côte d’Ivoire.

“Israel supported the use of technology for the sustainable development of Africa in accordance with a resolution adopted by the United Nations,” it said, and it was “convinced” that admission to the AU of Israel would help to advance the African continent towards a better future for the well-being of African people.

The ADD joined its voice to those of other civil society organisations, and asked the African heads of state to include it on its agenda this week.

Earlier this week, the ADD held a peaceful rally in Abuja in support of Israel’s observer status.

Olubunmi Fagbuyiro, the Economic Community of West African States representative of the ADD, said that there was still concern about countries who opposed this observer status. “The AU should embrace Israel, as the country has already demonstrated its willingness for fruitful partnership with Africa,” Fagbuyiro said.

He said Israel had been pivotal in the provision of green energy, health infrastructure, and infrastructure for sustainable water supply in many countries on the continent. He noted Israel’s contribution to the fight against Ebola in Africa.

“It’s our view that the AU can play an important role in bringing about peace between Israel and Palestine, drawing on lessons from the African nationalist movements and the experiences of decolonisation and reconciliation following various conflicts can be used to inspire negotiation and peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.”

Meanwhile, the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) has joined various African civil society organisations from across the continent in their call for African heads of state to reaffirm unanimously Israel’s admission as an observer member of the AU.

“Israel has had a mutually beneficial relationship with African states for more than 70 years. It has been at the forefront of efforts to help solve some of the most important developmental challenges on the continent. These include the areas of health, agriculture, youth development, water, education, and energy.

“The admission of Israel as an observer to the African Union, alongside more than 70 other countries, is a historic and welcome development. It should be celebrated and not undermined by those who aren’t interested in peace and prosperity on the continent,” it said.

The SAZF called on other organisations connected to Africa and its diaspora to sign a letter of support to the AU.

The letter is signed by prominent progressive international African organisations, companies, leaders, activists, youth movements, and trade unions. It says Israel’s admission seeks to “enhance the work of Israeli African co-operation on development programmes at bilateral and multilateral levels. Admittance is in the interests of peace and dialogue.”

Faki Mahamat accepted the credentials of Aleligne Admasu, Israel’s ambassador to Ethiopia, on 22 July.

He said at the time that he hoped the move would contribute to the “intensification of the advocacy of the AU for the fulfilment of the principle of two states and the restoration of peace between Israel and Palestine” and reiterated the “unflinching commitment” of the AU to the fundamental rights of the Palestinians.

This included their “right to establish an independent national state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, within the framework of a global, fair, and definitive peace between Israel and Palestine.”

Faki Mahamat said the reservations expressed by “a few members” about this decision justified his intention to include it on the agenda of this week’s session of the executive council.

Israel obtained AU observer status after 20 years of diplomatic efforts. It had previously held the role at the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), but was long thwarted in its attempts to regain it after the OAU was disbanded in 2002 and replaced by the AU.

Apart from South Africa, other countries opposing Israel’s member status include Algeria, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.

Most other countries on the continent have sought closer ties with Israel, such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Uganda, and have secured Israeli help, expertise, and investment in many areas from water and agriculture to tech start-ups.

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Arab-Israeli gangsterism a massive security threat

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The current violence in Arab-Israeli cities is a greater threat to the state of Israel than Hamas and Hezbollah. The comparison might sound dramatic, but since stating it earlier this week, Israeli Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar has only reinforced his concerns.

As many as half-a-million illegal weapons are estimated to be in the hands of the Israeli-Arab sector. Their prevalence is widely attributed to the killing of more than 90 Arab citizens since the start of this year in shootings and stabbings. Though some of these deaths have been the result of warfare before mafia families, others involved unlucky bystanders struck by a stray bullet or female victims of domestic violence. Of these cases, less than a quarter have been solved so far, compared with more than 70% in the Jewish community.

Many Arab Israelis say the identities of killers and crime families are well-known to residents and authorities. They complain that the lack of arrests reflects a double standard when it comes to Israeli police dealing with Arab communities.

The problem is further compounded by the lack of faith many Arabs have in the Israeli police’s will and ability to address the problem. A recent survey found that only 17.4% of Israeli Arabs said they trusted the police. The result is a Catch-22, as this lack of faith leads to fewer people being willing to risk co-operating with the police, who in turn have a more difficult time enforcing law and order.

For months now, the Israeli government has been trying to get a grip on the deteriorating security situation. Even the head of the United Arab List, parliamentarian Mansour Abbas, this week again stressed his concern about crime and violence in Arab communities.

But how to deal with it has created problems, with Arabs divided over Jerusalem’s recent announcement that it plans to involve the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) in assisting the Israeli police. While some Arabs firmly oppose the idea, others are desperate for any solution that could help quell the escalating violence.

It’s difficult trying to gauge opinion on the Arab street. Most people I approach are afraid to comment. Should they be seen to support the Shin Bet, they could face reprisals in their communities; and should they be seen to publicly oppose its involvement, they could – they tell me – be targeted by Israeli security authorities. The best answer, encapsulating what most people feel, is what one elderly man told me, “I’m doomed if I support the move, and I’m doomed if I don’t!”

As for the Shin Bet itself, its officials say they prefer not to be involved in anything beyond their more regular counter-terrorism missions. These are usually across the Green Line, in Palestinian territories, where suspects can be held for years without charge and prevented from meeting with lawyers.

Jerusalem has consistently argued that such measures are necessary to prevent Palestinian terror attacks, but implementing them against Israeli citizens, albeit against those who are engaged in criminal activity, is a completely different ball game. The major concern, for Jews and Arabs alike, is that it could turn Israel into a police state. Many also question how a technologically advanced country like Israel, that was recently able to catch six escaped Palestinian prisoners within a week, has been unable to break up a few local criminal gangs. Some Arab citizens even suspect the government of deliberately letting the violence run amok in order to weaken the Arab minority in the country.

Several Israeli officials have expressed a popular view among the Israeli political right that “as long as they are killing each other, that’s their problem”. But this violence often spills over into Jewish neighbourhoods, often into nationalistic crimes, as was witnessed in May this year.

At the time, I visited mixed Arab-Israeli cities in the heart of the country that resembled battlegrounds. Car tyres were burning on the streets, shops and homes were barricaded, and many Arab citizens walked around armed. The concern was that those weapons, often stolen from the Israeli military, or smuggled across the border from Jordan, or manufactured in the West Bank, could be turned against the Israeli public. The police were quick to quell the unrest as quickly as it unfolded, leaving many to point out that when the security forces really wanted to deal with the violence, they could.

The new government insists it’s prioritising dealing with the situation. It says it has a detailed plan to improve access and trust in Arab communities that it is ready to put into action after the state budget is passed in November. It calls for recruiting an additional 1 100 police officers, legislative changes to deal more efficiently with economic crime, more use of technology, and an improved witness-protection programme.

The situation has become so bad that in some cases, police are afraid to enter neighbourhoods. The hashtag #ArabLivesMatter has caught on, inspired by the #BlackLivesMatter movement and among those embracing the hashtag is the country’s public security minister who faced stormy protests outside his home after seven shooting incidents rattled the Arab community in a single week. But although there’s growing public awareness of the problem, it won’t easily disappear. It’s been around for a long time, and will take some time to dissipate.

  • Paula Slier is the Middle East bureau chief of RT, the founder and chief executive of Newshound Media International, and the inaugural winner of the Europcar Women in Leadership Award of the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards.

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