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Israel

‘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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