(re: “COVID can’t take conscience,” Feb. 25)
Abigail Fisher bemoans that some in the Jewish community have criticized Congressman Jamaal Bowman for his condemnations of Israel’s vaccination policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians. However, her attempt to make the ethical case in lieu of the legal case — which she correctly acknowledges cannot be made against Israel — falls short of her mark.
Indeed, with the signing of the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority had agreed to assume responsibility for its population’s health care, including vaccinations. Likewise, the Fourth Geneva Convention as interpreted by the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1958 — which Abigail references incorrectly — had assigned primary health care responsibility to the “national and local authorities.” Meaning, the Palestinian Authority was legally bound under that rubric as well.
So even if one would choose to view Israel as an “occupying power,” the convention would have required only support from Israel — i.e., helping with “the import of medical supplies, such as medicaments, vaccines and sera.”
Since Abigail asks us to focus on the ethical case, let’s do just that.
Dr. Bowman, first and foremost, should be applauded for his vigorous efforts to press the federal government to open vaccination centers in marginalized and under-served 16th Congressional District areas.
For example, in Yonkers, Mount Vernon, Wakefield, and Edenwald/Co-op City, where infection rates are sky high and vaccination rates appallingly lag far behind communities such as Riverdale, Scarsdale, Mamaroneck and Rye-Harrison.
Dr. Bowman is following a laudable moral trajectory with regard to vaccination prioritization on his district’s home turf. The standard of care that he espouses is no less vitally important for Israel, which also rightfully chooses to inoculate more endangered citizens before considering others.
At the time of Dr. Bowman’s misguided tweet and follow-up letter to Israel’s acting consul general, Israel’s COVID-19 infection rate was 10th highest in the world, at 67,317 per million. This, as opposed to the Palestinians, who ranked 59th highest, and numbered 30,259 per million.
In other words, less than half of Israel’s infection rate.
Israel’s death rate was 493 per million, while the Palestinians was 349 per million. Gaza was doing even better, ahead of 64 other countries with its 270 deaths per million. (Incidentally, the U.S. death rate at the time was a grim 1,460 deaths per million.)
On just one day when these statistics were aggregated, Israel had 1,027 critical cases and 27 deaths, while the Palestinians had 61 critical cases and five deaths.
The Israelis clearly were the population at greater risk. Consequently, the Israelis justifiably were prioritized by Israel.
Had Israel prematurely relinquished a portion of its vaccine supply, the number of Israeli dead would have far exceeded the number of Palestinians saved.
Nor did Israel share its supply then with Syria, contrary to Abigail’s misquoting of Rabbi Avi Weiss. The medical aid that Rabbi Weiss’ letter in January praised Israel for providing to the Syrians had taken place long before the coronavirus outbreak. No vaccination favoritism was exercised here as Abigail implies.
Nonetheless, Israel did in fact reach out in various ways to help the Palestinian Authority with pandemic management, only to be thwarted by the Palestinian Authority’s longstanding policy of anti-normalization. Once deemed appropriate, this also included vaccine offers, such as when Israel proposed to set up stations on and near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to vaccinate the thousands of Palestinian worshippers arriving every Friday for prayers.
To which, the Palestinian leadership said “no.”
So Israel offered to use just Arab paramedics. Still, “no.”
Finally, Israel offered to remove all Jewish insignias, especially the Star of David. Another firm “no.”
Lest it be said the Palestinian Authority was dependent on Israel for assistance of any kind, President Mahmoud Abbas, Minister of Health Dr. Mai al-Kaila, and their acolytes instead had been counting on the cheaper Russian Sputnik V vaccine, supplemented by the inadequate World Health Organization Covax program, as yet unproven efficacy and delivery delays notwithstanding.
Thus, it was not until Jan. 5 that Dr. Al-Kaila submitted a first request to Israel for vaccines. Perhaps not unrelated, coinciding manufactured claims of Israel’s withholding of medical support to the Palestinians had begun to circulate — an irresistible public relations bonanza for the Palestinian Authority, to hide its irresponsible rejectionist policy behind.
The Palestinian Authority’s culpability with regard to vaccinating its own became more evident recently after the Palestinian non-governmental organization Aman — devoted to fighting rampant Palestinian Authority corruption, nepotism, cronyism and malfeasance — revealed that vaccines were being diverted from the Palestinian Authority’s limited supply meant for average Palestinians to the PLO leadership, to authority elites and to the football team, with 200 doses sent to Jordan’s royal court as well.
I do not believe Abigail would have liked to see the Israel Defense Forces do battle with Abbas and company to ensure a more equitable Palestinian Authority vaccination program.
As a free speech advocate, I will always defend Abigail’s and Congressman Bowman’s right to critique Israeli policy accurately. I would also caution them about the fine line between misinformed criticism and the anti-Semitic blood libels impugning Israel’s great reverence for human life that inevitably follow.
These latest spurious charges against Israel — including that Israel does not vaccinate its Arab citizens — propel us dangerously closer to the latter.
As a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, I particularly object to Abigail and anyone else claiming that Israel did wrong by first vaccinating its own population. Reading between the lines, I hear her saying not just that Palestinian lives matter, but that Israeli lives — my life — do not matter.
The author formerly served as the Israel director for the Zionist Organization of America.