Accusing Israel of Withholding Vaccines Defies Reality and Harms Jewish People
For millennia, conspiracy theories falsely accusing Jews of causing the deaths of non-Jews have been used as a basis for violent attacks against and mass murder of the Jewish people. And since Israel’s founding, the Jewish state has become a favorite target for such vile tropes.
The latest manifestation? That Israel, in violation of international law, has exercised yet another form of deadly oppression by denying Palestinians access to the COVID-19 vaccine. This canard has gained renewed traction in recent weeks thanks to media members, American politicians, distinguished non-profits, and even prominent entertainment personalities, all of whom have used their large and influential platforms to target Israel, and Jews by association.
The most recent example occurred during the February 20 broadcast of Saturday Night Live. Comedian Michael Che shared that Israel had already vaccinated 50 percent of its population, and mused that Israel had vaccinated only “the Jewish half.”
Similar accusations were leveled on non-satirical media, aiming to tar Israel’s incredible achievement. In a January 27 BBC HARDtalk interview with Israel’s health minister, host Stephen Sackur accused Israel of flouting its obligation under international law to provide vaccines to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The same false claim has been repeated on other established media networks as well.
Members of Congress have joined the fray, too. Last month, Congressman Joaquin Castro expressed disappointment and concern that Israel was not providing Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza with COVID-19 vaccines, despite making them available to Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Days later, first-term Congressman Jamal Bowman echoed these sentiments while accusing Israel of cruelty in its policy, as did Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Marie Newman.
Doctors Without Borders published an article on its website titled “Palestinians left out of Israel's COVID-19 vaccination success story,” which labels Israel’s vaccination success as having a “dark side” with cruel consequences. Not to be outdone, Amnesty International issued a statement accusing Israel of “institutionalized discrimination” for “denying” COVID-19 vaccines to Palestinians.
These false accusations lack three critical pieces of context.
First, there are millions of Palestinian citizens of Israel who, as Israeli citizens, receive the same level of healthcare and access to vaccines as all Israelis. Because Israel leads the world in vaccinations per capita, Palestinian citizens of Israel actually have better access to the vaccine than the citizens of every literally other nation, including the U.S. To conflate all Palestinians with only those living in Gaza and the West Bank inappropriately racializes the issue and fans more hatred.
Second, Article 17 of the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Accords states that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza fall under the purview of Palestinian health authorities, while Palestinians in Israel proper and Jews in the West Bank (Israel evacuated its settlements in Gaza in 2005) are subject to Israeli health authorities. So Israel is fulfilling its obligations under the accords, while the Hamas government in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank are not. Those who point to the 1949 Geneva Conventions in this case simultaneously ignore the Oslo Accords, which have dictated the conduct of the parties for over two decades, while inappropriately stripping Palestinians of their own agency and power to engage in bilateral agreements.
Third, those making moral arguments are detached from the reality on the ground. The Palestinian ethos opposes accepting what could be perceived as Israeli charity, and both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority fear losing credibility should they ever choose to do so. That’s why Palestinian health officials have stated on multiple occasions that they do not want Israel’s help during the pandemic, and would look elsewhere for vaccines.
This is one of the rare occasions in which the public spotlight should have been shining on Israel for an extraordinary public health triumph. Instead, what we see are Israel’s critics, desperate to tear down the only Jewish state at every turn, grasping for ways to spin this objective success as a negative.
The history in the region is complex, but accusing Israel of intentionally withholding a lifesaving vaccine from Palestinians both unjustifiably absolves the Palestinian health authorities of their responsibility to their own people and feeds into antisemitic thinking. To counter these misrepresentations, prominent public figures, established media outlets, and distinguished international organizations must ensure they have the facts before making incendiary claims.
Monty S. Steckler, Esq. is editor-at-large of the J’accuse Coalition for Justice.