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A good friend in the States recently reached out and asked me the seemingly innocent question, “What’s up in Israel?” But, in the age of Corona, any inquiry about events in the Land often leads to contention. Politics, religion, Corona. The primary source of misgiving here is that, though everyone cares deeply about what’s going on, no one really knows. Depending on one’s sources of information, our new government and its health ministry claim that between only 40 and 52 percent of all Israelis are “completely vaccinated,” that is, have received all three available Pfizer shots. (The Pfizer vaccine is, in effect, the only option currently available to Israelis.) 

With a fourth dose on the horizon, Israel’s former relief and euphoria based on its populace having taken the worldwide lead in vaccination rate against COVID-19 have clearly faded, albeit slowly, as the government’s policies have come into question.

Amid the plentiful pro-vaccine articles that continually grace the Jerusalem Post’s website, a December 16th Post editorial entitled Has Israel gone overboard fighting COVID-19? has at last, in the minds of some, begun a debate regarding what some feel are the government’s draconian efforts to stop the spread of coronaviruses in Israel. The editorial poses several urgent questions…

“On behalf of all Israelis – and potential visitors to the country – let us ask:

  • Was it really necessary to extend the travel restrictions on most foreign nationals until December 29, even though this constitutes a real blow to Jews from around the world and Christian pilgrims planning a trip to the holy land over the Christmas-New Year period?
  • Was it really necessary to declare another seven countries “red” – including the United Arab Emirates – just days after that country hosted Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for the first visit by an Israeli leader? And is it really necessary to declare more countries red, especially the US and Canada, which would cause real harm?
  • Was it really necessary to introduce a series of draconian measures for travelers returning to Israel from abroad, including a seven-day quarantine from red countries?
  • Was it really necessary for Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz to announce that as of this weekend, only people carrying a Green Pass may enter malls and other closed facilities?
  • Yes, it is true that as of yesterday, there were 89 confirmed Omicron cases reported in Israel and another 150 suspected of being infected with the variant. But so far no deaths have been reported in Israel from Omicron, and Israeli researchers have determined that a three-shot course of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine provides significant protection against Omicron.”

On December 18th, two thousand Israelis assembled in Ra’anana around Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s residence to protest government vaccination and restriction policies. Some of the demonstrators were eventually hosed, whipped and arrested, but there is no sign of diminishing Israeli resistance. Whether or not one believes in the efficacy and desirability of vaccines to fight the spread of COVID in Israel, the current government’s heavy-handed approach to promoting their vaccine and prevention agenda has raised important questions about their efforts’ intrusion upon basic human rights in Israel.