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‘Vaccine apartheid’ – the latest anti-Israel libel




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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Commonwealth Jewish Council calls for release of ‘Nigeria three’



All Rudy Rochman wanted to do was to shine a light on unknown, disconnected, and re-emerging Jewish communities around the world, but something went horribly wrong.

The charismatic 27-year-old Israeli activist, who has more than 97 000 followers on Instagram, was working on a new documentary series titled, We Were Never Lost, which focused on these “lost tribes”. At the beginning of July, he and his team travelled to Nigeria to film their first episode.

However, Rochman, filmmaker Andrew Noam Leibman, and French-Israeli journalist Edouard David Benaym were arrested by Nigerian security services when the three presented a Torah scroll to a local community. They remain in custody, haven’t been charged, and haven’t been given legal representation. Organisations and individuals around the world are working desperately to get them released.

“Our first season is set in Africa, and we are filming our first episode on the Jews of Nigeria,” Rochman’s team wrote on Facebook on 8 July. “There are many Jews in Nigeria, Igbos included, and we are here only to help local practising and observing Jewish communities, to provide them with resources, and to document their lives, experiences, and aspirations. We don’t take any position on political movements as we aren’t here as politicians nor as a part of any government delegation.”

But the next day, they were arrested, supposedly for supporting “separatist activists”. Commonwealth Jewish Council (CJC) Chief Executive Clive Lawton is one of the many people working behind the scenes. Speaking to the SA Jewish Report from his home in the United Kingdom, he says he is alarmed that the men have been held in detention for more than a week without being charged. “That would indicate it’s only an investigation, but they still have no legal representation, and how can such an investigation take more than a week?”

He says the CJC has written to the Nigerian high commissioner to the Commonwealth, His Excellency Sarafa Tunji Isola, urging him to pressure his government to release them soon. “They are being detained on the flimsiest of pretexts. I’m sure the Nigerian government wouldn’t want to cultivate an image that foreign visitors can be snatched up on spurious accusations,” says Lawton.

He has also written to the secretary general of the Commonwealth of Nations, Baroness Patricia Scotland. “In this family of nations, the quality of relationships and expectations of decency carry a lot of weight. It’s shocking that Nigeria might continue to hobnob with other heads of governments while treating foreigners like this. It should be seen as shameful. Yes, they might need to investigate something, but that doesn’t take 10 days. This isn’t just an investigation. It’s intimidation. Acting without due process is against Commonwealth principles,” he says.

He hopes that the less formal relationships between Commonwealth countries will make an impact. “At the very least, they should be released to go home. But more desirable would be that they be allowed to return to their cultural activity of making a documentary.”

Lawton says his organisation seeks to build relationships between Jews from around the world. More than 40 countries, including South Africa, are members.

Although the media reported that “three Israelis” were arrested, it’s unclear if all three have Israeli citizenship.

Lawton says Rochman and Leibman entered Nigeria on their American passports, and Benaym on his French passport. “We knew that they planned to make this documentary and were in the first stages of filming. They went to south-east Nigeria to visit a community. Like anyone making such a visit, they wanted to bring artefacts or objects to present to them. In this instance, they very generously brought a Sefer Torah.”

Two weeks ago, Rochman wrote on Instagram about how his team had “just acquired a beautiful Torah that survived the Holocaust and is believed to have come from an old community in Ukraine about 200 years ago”.

“The scribal experts our team spoke to stated that the ktav [writing] had since gone extinct, and they couldn’t believe their eyes when we sent them pictures of the scroll.

“We will be bringing the Torah and gifting it to the youth movement of Igbo Jewish communities of Nigeria for them to have access to our nation’s holy text.”

“It would seem that some separatist activists wrote Facebook messages along the lines of ‘welcoming this act of solidarity’”, Lawton says. “But in fact the filmmakers categorically stated that they had no interest in political issues and were there for a cultural reason – to make a film.

“They arrived on a Thursday, and visited a synagogue,” he says. “That was when Nigerian security services entered the synagogue and arrested them, taking them to the capital, Abuja. On the Friday, the men’s embassies were alerted, and sought to get involved. Chabad in Abuja has managed to organise provision of kosher food for them, which the security services agreed to allow. They also agreed for Benaym to be transported to the French embassy for medical attention, as long as he was returned to detention, and that is what was done. Israel has no ‘formal locus’ to help as they didn’t enter on Israeli passports, but it has sought to engage government and services.”

He believes that they are being held in some kind of “detention circumstances”, but cannot say what these conditions are like, if they are separated, or if they are being held with others. But he says that the fact that the French embassy was willing to return Benaym suggests it was “probably not extreme”.

A member of the Igbo community, speaking to the SA Jewish Report on condition of anonymity, says, “Our information is that Rudy and co. came here to do a documentary on the connection of the Igbo people to Biblical Israelites. Many Igbos are reviving the practices of their ancestors and returning to Judaism. This is what Rudy and his team wanted to do – to hear our story as told by our people. But sadly, some local people hijacked the original intention of Rudy and began to make political capital out of it. The team was bringing a Sefer Torah to be donated to our community. We were very happy that many Israelis would get to know about our Israelite heritage and know that we are brethren.

“Our people are very saddened by the arrest, but we don’t want to heighten tension by making utterances as the matter is being handled. We keep praying for their safety. We believe they will be released because their visit was for religious reasons. We don’t believe they came here to undermine the security of Nigeria. In our synagogues, we don’t entertain separatist activities. We are very sad about their plight. We see it as someone getting into unforeseen trouble while in search of a long lost brother.”

The most recent update on the We Were Never Lost Instagram page is that, “Rudy, Noam, and David are still in custody, but are ok. Their spirits remain high. Three embassies are working diligently towards a resolution. No other action is necessary from the community at this stage, but thank you all for the care and support.”

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Diaspora minister expresses concern and support after riots



The newly elected Israeli minister of diaspora affairs this week sent a heartfelt message of support to the South African Jewish community following last week’s devastating protests and riots.

Dr Nachman Shai this week expressed his “warmest regards and personal blessing” in a letter to the community.

“All of us in Israel have watched the recent events in the KwaZulu-Natal region and around South Africa with deep concern. We stand with you in solidarity, and are particularly thinking about the Durban and Johannesburg Jewish communities during this challenging time.”

He said it was also a difficult moment for Jewish communities around the world. “In South Africa, we witnessed the rise of antisemitism following Operation Guardian of the Walls, which challenged your safety and sense of security.”

His ministry is a partner in ensuring the resilience of the community, and engaging actors within Israel to understand how its military actions had a direct impact on the Jewish world, Shai said.

“Our ability as a Jewish people to take on our shared challenges depends on our ability to engage effectively with one another.”

Shai said he was sure that his upcoming meeting with the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) and leadership would be the first of many “as we develop an ongoing conversation between us”.

“The secret of Jewish resilience rests in our sense of shared responsibility towards each other. With this frame, I look forward to working hand in hand with all of you to live up to our potential as both a diverse and unified Jewish people.”

He said the South African Jewish community had long been “a thriving epicentre of Jewish life and a true friend of Israel”, and as Israel’s new diaspora affairs minister, he looked forward to finding opportunities to further strengthen the relationship between South African Jewry and the state and people of Israel in the coming months.

Rowan Polovin, the national chairperson of the SAZF, said he appreciated Shai’s heartfelt message.

“The past few months have been an extremely challenging and difficult time for South African Jewry. Our connection as Jews living in the diaspora remains vitally important as a continued source of comfort and strength at all times, but particularly in times of hardship.”

He said the SAZF looked forward to further engagement with the minister on “developing and building upon the crucial relationship and bond between the state of Israel and the South African Jewish community”.

Shai was in South Africa in August 2017, when he led a delegation of five members of the Israeli Knesset to “promote dialogue, understanding, and co-operation”.

The delegation met leaders across the South African political spectrum, including Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, former President Kgalema Motlanthe, former Johannesburg Executive Mayor Herman Mashaba, and former Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane. It held meetings in parliament, and met members of the DA, Congress of the People, African Christian Democratic Party, Inkatha Freedom Party, and Freedom Front Plus. The delegation, a product of co-operation between the Israeli Knesset, the Israeli foreign affairs ministry, and the Jewish Agency, also met leaders of the Jewish community and engaged with the key figures in the Christian and business communities, where it reiterated Israel’s commitment to sharing expertise and experience in agriculture, water, and hi-tech.

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Transforming a rubbish dump into an oasis



After greening the desert with fruit and vegetables, Israelis looked elsewhere to make improvements. The country’s latest environmental achievement is to turn the Hiriya rubbish dump between Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion Airport into a park.

This former dump has been transformed into the largest green area in the Middle East, with more than 8 000 dunams (8km2) of parkland.

The Hiriya dump (Hiriya in Arabic means good in the sense of goodness and blessing in the past) was an eyesore and a rather smelly one at that, accumulating the majority of garbage from the greater Tel Aviv area.

The vision to convert this dumping ground into a green space came from the late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He was also the general who, during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, led his soldiers and tanks behind the Egyptian Third Army and surrounded them, cutting them off from mainland Egypt in the heat of the Sinai.

Today, the luscious green park has little lakes, dams, and revitalised rivers, with a huge variety of plants, bushes, and trees. Aptly, it has been named the Ariel Sharon Park. Venture to the edge of it, and you see a spectacular view of Tel Aviv.

The gas released by the landfill is being collected and rerouted underground, past the Shapirim Stream and Route #1 (the main Tel Aviv – Jerusalem highway) to a textile plant in Azur, where the gas is converted into green energy.

According to Shlomit Doten Gissin from the department of environment and sustainability at the park, the number of bird species has risen from only 80 to more than 200 species, with bird hides everywhere for visitors to watch birds in silence.

Gissin says the vegetation in the park was specifically planted to encourage low-flying birds so as not to interfere with the flight path to Ben Gurion Airport. Hundreds of indigenous plants, trees, and shrubs have been planted among fresh water ponds.

Some plants have been planted diagonally on the slopes to allow easy movements of butterflies so they don’t hit a “wall” of plants. There are also tiny animals to be found, even jackals and smaller cats.

This park is one of the wonders of unusable space being converted into flourishing public spaces in Israel. Completion should take about another year, but it’s already being enjoyed by many.

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