It started in the earliest days of the Covid pandemic. Scarcely had news spread in January 2020 of the arrival of the coronavirus from China than the incubators of another, much older, virus sprang into action. At the end of last year, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre reported that conspiracy theories blaming ‘the Jews’ for the coronavirus outbreak were topping its list of the world’s ten leading manifestations of antisemitism and Israelophobia for 2020. (1)
Such theories slot comfortably into ancient tropes, rife in medieval Christian Europe and now endemic in Middle Eastern Islamic culture, of the blood libel, of Jews as poisoners of wells and carriers of disease. In this malevolent fantasy world, Jews either cause or profit from eruptions like the Black Death, the Spanish Flu and, now, the coronavirus. (2)
Meanwhile, back in the real world, it was obvious from the start that Israeli scientists and medical personnel were leading the way in the world’s response to the pandemic. (We shouldn’t forget that Arab citizens work alongside Jews in these disciplines, contributing far beyond their 20 per cent share of Israel’s population.)
Irish media and talk shows were no different from others in drawing on Israeli epidemiological data as the best guide to understanding the progress of the pandemic. The effectiveness of various countermeasures was often discussed in the light of Israel’s experience of the severe lockdowns and travel restrictions imposed in the early months of 2020.
Not all countermeasures were successful: some were hugely controversial. The emergency law passed by the Knesset in March 2020 to allow the use of mobile phone geolocation data for quarantine purposes had to be withdrawn a month later due to privacy concerns. (3) However, the pandemic as a whole has given Israel the incidental benefit of a bonanza of positive publicity in populations usually exposed to the relentless one-dimensional negativity of the Palestinian problem.
The high point of the windfall came in December 2020 with the opening of Israel’s mass vaccination campaign. Once again, Israel led the world by several months and, through superb organisation, quickly achieved a high degree of population coverage.
It must have been a galling experience for the Israel-haters in our midst to watch this collision of reality with their cherished narratives of ‘apartheid’, ‘genocide’ etc. It was too much to hope that they would not seek out a negative sidelight. Soon enough, it came in the form of the allegation, flooding western media, that Israel was deliberately denying vaccination to Palestinian Arabs. (4)
Mainstream media outlets that are supposed to check facts and respect truth were happy to spread this libel. Had they done proper research, they would have found that healthcare was one of the powers devolved to the Palestinian Authority under the legally binding Oslo Accords, that Israel had no obligation to vaccinate Palestinians and that the PA had not officially asked Israel to do so, instead ordering four million doses of the Sputnik vaccine from Russia.
Not that Israel was unwilling to help. It vaccinated the 350,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem although most are not Israeli citizens; it donated protective gear and Covid test kits and held training courses for Palestinian medical teams and lab technicians. (5)
The final nail in the coffin of the ‘no vax for Palestinians’ canard came on 6 July when it was revealed that Israel was about to send 700,000 Pfizer vaccine doses, due to expire at the end of July, to South Korea after the PA had rejected them. (6)
Israel is now back in the Covid headlines. The prestigious magazine Science has commented: ‘With early vaccination and outstanding data, the country is the world’s real-life Covid-19 lab’.
Last August, it was the first state to discover the phenomenon of waning vaccination immunity and to offer a booster third dose to its people. (7) Belatedly, Ireland and the UK are now keen to follow suit. (8)
With the arrival of the Omicron variant, immunologists and epidemiologists will be turning again to Israeli data to help assess the efficacy of the booster shot. We don’t know what the future may hold, but we can be certain that the world’s only Jewish state will sail on blithely past its detractors and begrudgers, deploying its best intellectual resources for the benefit of humanity.
By Dermot Meleady
1. ‘Anti-Jewish COVID theories top list of worst antisemitic outbreaks,’ Jerusalem Post, 30 December 2020.
2. ‘Coronavirus sparked a new wave of antisemitism,’ Jerusalem Post, 25 June 2020.
3. ‘Coronavirus: Israel halts police phone tracking over privacy concerns,’ BBC News, 23 April 2020.
4. ‘Palestinians excluded from Israel’s COVID vaccine rollout as jabs go to settlers,’ The Guardian, 3 January 2021.
5. ‘Media adopts canard Israel denies vaccine to Palestinians,’ Jerusalem Post, 4 January 2021.
6. ‘Jerusalem to send South Korea 700,000 COVID-19 vaccines,’ Honest Reporting, 6 July 2021.
7. ‘A grim warning from Israel: Vaccination blunts, but does not defeat Delta,’ Science, 16 August 2021.
8. ‘Follow the Israeli model and provide boosters for all adults,’ Irish Examiner, 26 November 2021.