By PHILISSA CRAMER, BEN SALES
Jan. 5, 2021 (JTA) — Israel is making headlines for its response to COVID-19 — again.
Early on in the pandemic, Israel was lauded for its tough lockdown measures and low coronavirus rates, only to become a cautionary tale over the summer, when case numbers skyrocketed.
Now Israel is getting praised again, this time for its vaccination campaign. On Jan. 1, Israel announced that it had vaccinated more than 1 million citizens — over 10% of its population of nearly 9 million, and far and away the highest vaccination rate worldwide. The country is vaccinating 150,000 people every day and hopes to vaccinate half of its population by March.
But the country is also experiencing a renewed spike in COVID-19 cases, and the pandemic’s steepest toll could yet be ahead. So far, the disease has killed nearly 3,500 Israelis.
Here’s what you need to know about Israel’s vaccine drive, from what’s making it work to how it relates to the looming elections to why the country isn’t anywhere close to ending its outbreak.
1. Israel’s universal health care system is vaccinating people around the clock.
Like most developed countries, Israel provides health care to all of its citizens free of charge, and the coronavirus vaccine is no exception. The country is prioritizing elderly citizens and those with immunosuppression or other health risks, but everyone is eligible for the vaccine, or will be in the future.
To receive medical care, Israelis choose between four national networks of health clinics. All of the networks provide the same basic set of government services and medications, but they’re concentrated in different parts of the country and each offer their own premium health care plans, with access to a wider range of services.
The four networks give the government a relatively efficient way to distribute vaccines across the small country, and the networks are competing to provide the fastest and most convenient shots. Vaccination sites are running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, some even on Shabbat, a day when most Israeli services shut down. Israelis are also able to book appointments on an app.
One of the networks, Maccabi, is advertising a drive-in vaccination site near the port city of Haifa, with a video showing people rolling up their sleeves without taking off their seatbelts. Clalit, the largest health care network, has a running counter of how many people it has vaccinated. As of Monday night, it stood at 594,418.
2. The country has been relatively liberal about who can get the vaccine.
Like most countries, Israel is prioritizing frontline healthcare workers and the elderly, especially those in nursing homes, in its first batch of vaccines. But it has been handing out vaccines relatively freely. For starters, Israel included everyone over 60 in the first tier. Other countries have higher age limits or, in the case of the U.S., are treating the elderly in congregate living settings differently from those who live in their own homes.
What’s more, where other countries are imposing procedures to ensure that no others get the vaccine until it’s their turn, Israel has seemed to be prioritizing getting shots into arms over hewing to a rigid hierarchy. Israelis say that if you’re near a vaccination center at the end of the day, when any prepared vaccines must be used or discarded, you are likely to be able to get a shot, even if you’re young, healthy and don’t work in health care.
Some vaccine providers are taking this approach in the United States, too; a law student in Washington, D.C., shared this week that he got a shot because he was at the grocery store pharmacy just before closing time. But more often, states are telling Americans that they must plan to wait — and in some cases, as in New York, imposing steep penalties for administering vaccines out of order.
Some signs of tension appear to be emerging as Israel runs through its first big batch of doses, though. On Monday, the country’s health minister stopped supplying vaccines to a Tel Aviv hospital that administered doses to teachers who did not meet eligibility criteria. (The national teachers union has vowed to strike if teachers are not vaccinated imminently.) At basically the same time, the prime minister’s office has come under fire for giving the vaccine to all of its employees, regardless of their age and health.
3. A lot is riding on this for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Political machinations are hardly the only motivation for getting the country vaccinated. But Netanyahu knew that his support was tenuous when he committed early to vaccine contracts, at high cost, and now that it’s election season in Israel (again), perhaps nothing could do more to shore up his sagging support than a successful vaccination drive earning the world’s esteem and allowing the country to safely get back to normal. The prime minister was the first Israeli to be vaccinated, and he has posed with a wide array of constituents in vaccine photos — including with an Arab Israeli he said was the 1 millionth person vaccinated in the country.
Exactly how many Israelis will be vaccinated before March 23, the date of the upcoming election, remains to be seen. But the current pace of vaccinations suggests that most Israelis will have gotten the concrete benefit of vaccination by then, even as other aspects of Netanyahu’s leadership remain ripe for criticism. (Remember that massive protests against him have taken place whenever there is not a lockdown, and sometimes when there is.)
4. Israel is facing criticism for not vaccinating Palestinians — even as Palestinian leaders say they don’t want the help.
As soon as the charts showing Israel leading with its vaccination campaign, criticism emerged over access to vaccines in Gaza and the West Bank, the Palestinian territories that Israel occupies but does not manage. Headlines from NPR, the Associated Press and other news organizations have implied that Israel is not delivering vaccines to Palestinians, and that narrative has gained traction, particularly among longstanding critics of Israel. in Canada, Jewish leaders are raising the alarm about members of Parliament who have cited the vaccine situation in criticism of Israel as an apartheid state.
In fact, the Palestinian Authority is responsible for delivering medical care in its territories, according to the Oslo Accords signed in 1993. And the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, has said it does not want Israel’s help and is working to purchase vaccines of its own. It expects to receive its first shipment of a Russian-developed vaccine next month.
Many people, including allies of Israel, say Israel should help vaccinate Palestinians anyway, for both moral and practical reasons. Hundreds of rabbis from multiple denominations, organized by Rabbis for Human Rights, have signed a letter arguing that Israel has a moral imperative to deliver vaccines to Palestinians, especially in Gaza, the strip of land controlled by Hamas where medical care and the general standard of living is poor.
Israel is not alone in prioritizing its own citizens getting vaccinated. Equity of access to vaccines is a pressing global issue, with wealthy countries buying up the vast majority of the first vaccines and leaving huge swaths of the world, including much of Africa, without a clear path to ending their pandemics. Israeli leaders say they intend to donate doses left over after Israelis are vaccinated to needy countries, potentially including Palestinian territories. But right now they — like other national leaders around the world — are focused on their own citizens, including the nearly 2 million Arab Israeli citizens who are part of the current vaccination campaign.
5. Whether the pace of vaccinations can be sustained is unclear — and cases are mounting.
Only another 1 million doses are scheduled to arrive later this month, although the country is trying — along with everyone else on Earth — to obtain more. (A new deal with Moderna won’t deliver vaccines before February, officials announced Tuesday.) If no additional doses are received, only about a quarter of the country’s population will have gained immunity through vaccination by the end of January, leaving millions of people vulnerable to COVID-19 at a time of high community spread and with at least one highly infectious new variant circulating.
In just one 24-hour span this week, one in every 1,000 Israelis was diagnosed with COVID-19, and a third lockdown, imposed late last month, is being tightened. The number of “serious cases” — people who are hospitalized and in poor condition — is nearing its fall peak, and infections are widespread across all sectors of society.
According to the government, more than half of older Israelis have received one dose already. But even with the high vaccination rate, Israel is far from ending its onslaught of cases and deaths through vaccination. That’s true for every country, but it could come as a harsher realization for one with international acclaim for its vaccine rollout.
Hamas murdered their friend. Now, they help Israeli soldiers to keep his memory alive
By VIRGINIA ALLEN (The Daily Signal) David Newman sent a text to a friend the morning of Saturday, Oct. 7. Something terrible had happened. Word quickly spread among Newman’s group of friends, who had known each other since high school.
Newman, 25, had traveled the night before to the music festival in southern Israel, close to the border with the Gaza Strip. It was supposed to be a fun weekend with his girlfriend “celebrating life,” something Newman, who served with the Israel Defense Forces, was good at and loved to do, friend Gidon Hazony recalls.
When Hazony learned that Newman, his longtime friend, was in danger, he and another friend decided they were “going to go down and try and save him.” Trained as a medic and armed with a handgun and bulletproof vest, Hazony started driving south from Jerusalem.
Hazony and his friend ended up joining with other medical personnel and “treated probably around 50 soldiers and civilians in total that day,” Hazony recalls, but they kept trying to make it south to rescue Newman.
But the two “never made it down to the party, and that’s probably for the best,” Hazony says, “because that area was completely taken over by terrorists. And if we had gone down there, I think we would’ve been killed.”
Hazony later learned that Hamas terrorists had murdered Newman on Oct. 7, but not before Newman had saved nearly 300 lives, including the life of his girlfriend.
When the terrorists began their attack on the music festival, many attendees began running to their cars. But Newman and his girlfriend encountered a police officer who warned them to run the opposite direction because the terrorists were near the vehicles, says David Gani, another friend of Newman’s.
Newman “ran in the opposite direction with his girlfriend and whoever else he could kind of corral with him,” Gani explains during an interview on “The Daily Signal Podcast.”
“They saw two industrial garbage cans, big containers, and so David told everyone, ‘Hide, hide in those containers,’” Gani says. “And so what he did over the course of the next few hours is, he would take people and … he was this big guy, and he would just chuck them in that container. And then he would go in, wait, wait till the coast is clear, and then he’d go back out, find more people, put them in there.”
Newman’s actions that day, and the atrocities Hazony and so many others in Israel witnessed Oct. 7, led Hazony, Gani, and several friends to quit their jobs and set up a nonprofit called Soldiers Save Lives. The organization is working to collect tactical and humanitarian aid for the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF.
According to the group’s website, Soldiers Save Lives has supplied over 20 IDF units and civilian response teams “with protective and self-defense gear.”
Gani, board chairman, chief financial officer, and chief technology officer of Soldiers Save Lives, and Hazony, president of the organization, recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to raise support and awareness for their mission to provide IDF troops with needed supplies.
If you would like to find out more about Soldiers Save Lives or donate to them, go to https://www.soldierssavelives.org/
Reprinted with permission.
Our New Jewish Reality
By HENRY SREBRNIK Since Oct. 7, we Jews have been witnessing an ongoing political and psychological pogrom. True, there have been no deaths (so far), but we’ve seen the very real threat of mobs advocating violence and extensive property damage of Jewish-owned businesses, and all this with little forceful reaction from the authorities.
The very day after the carnage, Canadians awoke to the news that the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust had inspired sustained celebrations in its major cities. And they have continued ever since. I’d go so far as to say the Trudeau government has, objectively, been more interested in preventing harm to Gazans than caring about the atrocities against Israelis and their state.
For diaspora Jews, the attacks of Oct. 7 were not distant overseas events and in this country since then they have inspired anti-Semitism, pure and simple, which any Jew can recognize. Even though it happened in Israel, it brought back the centuries-old memories of defenseless Jews being slaughtered in a vicious pogrom by wild anti-Semites.
I think this has shocked, deeply, most Jews, even those completely “secular” and not all that interested in Judaism, Israel or “Zionism.” Jewish parents, especially, now fear for their children in schools and universities. The statements universities are making to Jewish students across the country could not be clearer: We will not protect you, they all but scream. You’re on your own.
But all this has happened before, as we know from Jewish history. Long before Alfred Dreyfus and Theodor Herzl, the 1881 pogroms in tsarist Russia led to an awakening of proto-Zionist activity there, with an emphasis on the land of Israel. There were soon new Jewish settlements in Palestine.
The average Jew in Canada now knows that his or her friend at a university, his co-worker in an office, and the people he or she socializes with, may in fact approve, or at least not disapprove, of what happened that day in Israel. Acquaintances or even close friends may care far more about Israel killing Palestinians in Gaza. Such people may even believe what we may call “Hamas pogrom denial,” already being spread. Many people have now gone so far in accepting the demonization of Israel and Jews that they see no penalty attached to public expressions of Jew-hatred. Indeed, many academics scream their hatred of Israel and Jews as loud as possible.
One example: On Nov. 10, Toronto officers responded to a call at an Indigo bookstore located in the downtown. It had been defaced with red paint splashed on its windows and the sidewalk, and posters plastered to its windows.
The eleven suspects later arrested claimed that Indigo founder Heather Reisman (who is Jewish) was “funding genocide” because of her financial support of the HESEG Foundation for Lone Soldiers, which provides scholarships to foreign nationals who study in Israel after serving in the Israeli armed forces. By this logic, then, most Jewish properties and organizations could be targeted, since the vast majority of Jews are solidly on Israel’s side.
Were these vandals right-wing thugs or people recently arrived from the Middle East? No, those charged were mostly white middle-class professionals. Among them are figures from academia, the legal community, and the public education sector. Four are academics connected to York University (one of them a former chair of the Sociology Department) and a fifth at the University of Toronto; two are elementary school teachers; another a paralegal at a law firm.
Were their students and colleagues dismayed by this behaviour? On the contrary. Some faculty members, staff and students at the university staged a rally in their support. These revelations have triggered discussions about the role and responsibilities of educators, given their influential positions in society.
You’ve heard the term “quiet quitting.” I think many Jews will withdraw from various clubs and organizations and we will begin to see, in a sense like in the 1930s, a reversal of assimilation, at least in the social sphere. (Of course none of this applies to Orthodox Jews, who already live this way.)
Women in various feminist organizations may form their own groups or join already existing Jewish women’s groups. There may be an increase in attendance in K-12 Jewish schools. In universities, “progressive” Jewish students will have to opt out of organizations whose members, including people they considered friends, have been marching to the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and similar eliminationist rhetoric, while waving Palestinian flags.
This will mostly affect Jews on the left, who may be supporters of organizations which have become carriers of anti-Semitism, though ostensibly dealing with “human rights,” “social justice,” and even “climate change.”
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg took part in a demonstration outside the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm on Oct. 22 in which she chanted “crush Zionism” along with hundreds of other anti-Israel protesters. Israel is now unthinkingly condemned as a genocidal apartheid settler-colonialist state, indeed, the single most malevolent country in the world and the root of all evil.
New York Times Columnist Bret Stephens expressed it well in his Nov. 7 article. “Knowing who our friends aren’t isn’t pleasant, particularly after so many Jews have sought to be personal friends and political allies to people and movements that, as we grieved, turned their backs on us. But it’s also clarifying.”
Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown.
Former Winnipegger Vivian Silver, at first thought to have been taken hostage, has now been confirmed dead
Former Winnipegger and well-known Israeli peace activist Vivian Silver has now been confirmed as having been killed during the massacre of Israelis and foreign nationals perpetrated by Hamas terrorists on October 7. Vivian, a resident of Kibbutz Be’eri was originally thought to be among the more than 1200 individuals who were taken hostage by Hamas.
To read the full story on the CBC website, go to https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/israel-gaza-vivian-silver-1.7027333