Israel: A Model For Pandemic Response

Naomi Altman

Israel has been at the forefront of global vaccination efforts. With over 30% of the population already vaccinated, Israel is significantly ahead of almost every other country. At the time of writing of this article, it is projected that the majority of the population will be vaccinated in the next four weeks. For context, the United States has only vaccinated 10% percent of its population. How has this nation been able to accomplish such an impressive feat? For drug companies, Israel was a great pilot country. It has a relatively small population and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approached drug companies early in order to implement a quick and massive vaccination program. Netanyahu was also willing to spend almost double what other countries like the US and the EU were paying. Israel has invested heavily in a unique and advanced healthcare system that has evolved tremendously since its humble beginnings in 1948. Israel spends 7% of its GDP on health and has an average life expectancy of 83 years (the 12th highest overall). With all of this considered, Israel was the perfect country to pilot the rollout of the COVID vaccinations. 

Israel has faced harsh criticism from the media and governing bodies due to its vaccination rollout programs. In a sketch that aired on February 20th 2021, Saturday Night Live’s Michael Che made a “joke” where he stated “Israel is reporting that they vaccinated half of their population and I’m going to guess it is the Jewish half.” In addition to this joke portraying a modern-day blood libel against Jewish people, it also perpetuates a false narrative on vaccination doses. Israel has rolled out vaccinations to all of its citizens regardless of race, ethnicity, and religion. Israeli-Arabs enjoy one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. 

Israel has also been criticized for their vaccine rollout to people living in Gaza and the West Bank. In late January, though, Israel said that it will transfer 5,000 vaccine doses to those living in those territories so they will be able to begin vaccinations for health workers. For Palestinians who reside in East Jerusalem, they are able to be vaccinated by Israel because they have Israeli residency, pay taxes, and have access to Israeli health insurance. According to reports, 2,000 Israeli Covid vaccinations have already been delivered to the West Bank. In addition to those vaccinations given by Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is in negotiations with many countries such as Russia in order to obtain vaccines. In fact, the PA has already received 10,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. The Covax scheme (backed by the World Health Organization) has said that they will also vaccinate 20% of the Palestinian population. They will provide an initial 240,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and 37,440 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. 

Knowing this information raises the question: is it Israel’s responsibility to provide vaccinations to the West Bank and Gaza? The United Nations Human Rights Body has released a statement that declares that it is Israel’s responsibility to provide equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines to the Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank. They argued that differential access is morally and legally unacceptable. Yet, the Oslo Accords give the PA oversight over public health under the principles of self-determination. The Oslo Accords were a declaration moderated by President Bill Clinton, and signed by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat in which Israel accepted the PLO as the representative of the Palestinians, and the PLO renounced terrorism and recognized Israel’s right to exist in peace. However, the UN statement says that international law takes priority over the Oslo Accords. 

I disagree with the UN on many things including this issue. The UN has a known prejudice against Israel. From 2006 to 2015, the UN Human Rights Council had 62 condemnations on Israel with only 55 on the rest of the world combined. Countries with known human rights issues like China, Russia, Venezuela, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and more had no condemnations. Therefore, I often take UN statements and measures with a grain of salt. I am adamantly pro-Israel and am a citizen of Israel myself, and I believe that the West Bank and Gaza governing bodies should be responsible for their own medical system and vaccination program. Israel should not have to be held responsible for the territories whose administration calls for its destruction. If the Palestinian governments genuinely want self-determination, they should lead their own vaccination efforts. Israel should continue to focus on its astounding vaccination efforts and then focus on assisting their neighbors once they have vaccinated their own population. Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said something that I assent. He stated that if Israel gets to the situation where every Israeli who wants to be is vaccinated, they will share their leftover vaccinations with their Palestinian neighbors. I believe that this is the fairest solution to this issue raised about Israeli vaccination efforts.

Israel should not be treated differently than any other country. Holding Israel to a different standard than other countries is considered anti semitic under the widely adopted IHRA definition of antisemitism. As nations around the world race to get their citizens vaccinated and return to normalcy, Israel can be looked at as a model for its well planned and executed vaccination program. 

One Response to Israel: A Model For Pandemic Response

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.