I had my second Covid vaccination yesterday. Within the next week or so, I should achieve above 90% percent immunity. That doesn’t mean that I won’t catch the virus or transmit it, according to my understanding. It simply means that I will be spared the symptoms. That in itself is a huge relief.
While thankful to have come this far so quickly – hardly anyone I know outside Israel has received the vaccine – my satisfaction is tempered by the awareness that my good fortune is the result of something I have lamented and criticized for my entire adult life.
Israel’s uncanny stranglehold on sentiment in the West has again enabled it to profit over most other countries, without any real justification and despite the human rights abuses that should – and probably would, in the case of virtually any other country – condemn it to international pariahdom.
How did Israel get the Pfizer vaccine so quickly and abundantly? The story seems to be that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu volunteered the Israeli population as guinea-pigs for an extended third-phase medical trial. In return for being the world’s earliest recipient of sufficient serum to inoculate an entire population, Israel is conducting intensive testing of those vaccinated and providing the data to Pfizer.
In principle, I don’t have a problem with that. Vaccines need to be tested and Israel has the public health infrastructure to both conduct an efficient nation-wide vaccination campaign and collect the necessary data. The lessons learned could be applicable globally.
But we should have been told of the quid pro quo with Pfizer. Knowing about it wouldn’t have influenced my readiness to have the vaccine and my guess is that most Israelis would have acted likewise. Why then the lack of transparency? Why did the truth have to emerge in dribs and drabs over several weeks without any official announcement?
The likely reason is that Netanyahu – who has repeatedly taken personal credit for the country’s vaccine miracle – played the Jewish and/or Holocaust cards, both of which have served him well throughout his political career. If he did, he chose his mark well.
Albert Bourla, the CEO of Pfizer, is both Jewish and the son of Holocaust survivors from Saloniki, in Greece, a Jewish community that was virtually decimated after the Nazis invaded Greece in April 1941.
Attending a Hanukkah party at the Israeli embassy in Washington DC in December, Bourla was lauded by ambassador Ron Dermer – one of Netanyahu’s closest associates – for “leading the race to save millions.” Just so Bourla didn’t miss the point, Dermer stressed that Pfizer’s Hanukkah miracle came “seventy-five years after the Nazis murdered millions.”
It’s clear that Israel didn’t stand in line with everyone else, pay its hard cash and receive the vaccine according to a schedule applicable to the rest of the world as well. We jumped the queue. And we were able to do so because Europe and the US are still profoundly Holocaust-sensitive – a sensitivity that Israel manipulates deliberately and ruthlessly.
Despite colonizing Palestinian territory and subjugating its population for well over half-a century, Israel remains an ally in good standing of the US (where it was virtually the fifty-first state under Trump) and Europe. It has preferential free trade agreements with the EU, was the first non-European country to participate in the framework agreement for research and technical development and even participates in the annual Eurovision song contest.
Whatever the disagreements over how products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank should be labelled and promoted, both the US and Europe have refrained from taking diplomatic measures against Israel and actively obstructed those calling for boycotts of the Jewish state. Apartheid South Africa may have got its comeuppance, but Apartheid Israel gets a pass.
That, in effect, is the background to Israel’s rush to be the first country in the world to vaccinate its population – an achievement on which Netanyahu is counting for electoral success in March. A thick layer of Holocaust guilt with a smattering of emotional blackmail.
Let’s face it, we’re all tired of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With the pandemic having turned our lives upside down, we need Palestinian grievances and Israeli self-justification like a hole in the head. That’s OK, I guess, but every once in a while we need a reminder of how grim things really are – and how the forced Covid interregnum is making them even worse.
Two recent articles serve precisely that purpose.
In “How Israel was Annexed to the Territories”, published today in Haaretz newspaper, former Israeli deputy attorney general Yehudit Karp explains how the overbearing military bureaucracy of the occupation has been turned inward during the pandemic, subjecting the Israeli population to the same dehumanization that the Palestinians have endured for decades. It makes for sobering reading.
In “The Separate Regimes Delusion”, published in the London Review of Books, journalist Nathan Thrall illustrates how the seemingly progressive insistence on a two-state solution by the US, UN and EU has in fact been the prime contributor to the deterioration of recent years.
“Diplomats and well-meaning anti-occupation groups greet every new act of Israeli expansion with dire warnings that it will be a ‘fatal blow’ to the two-state solution, that ‘the window is closing’ for Palestinian statehood and that now, on the eve of this latest takeover, it is ‘five minutes to midnight’ for the prospect of peace,” Thrall writes.
“Countless alarms of this kind have been rung during the past two decades. Each was supposed to convince Israel, the US, Europe and the rest of the world of the need to stop or at least slow Israel’s de facto annexation. But they have had the opposite effect: demonstrating that it will always be five minutes to midnight.“
As both Karp and Thrall make clear, lack of progress does not mean stasis – it means atrophy. Not only are the Palestinians worse off today than they were a year ago, but civil and human rights within Israel itself have been badly corroded.
The fact that Israel may well be the first country to vaccinate the bulk of its population – excluding the occupied Palestinians, of course – only highlights the pusillanimity of a world that has tolerated its lawlessness for so long.