Media Microscope: Taking jabs at Israel
Jan 29, 2021 | Allon Lee
The Australian media’s coverage of Israel’s world-leading campaign to vaccinate its population against the coronavirus has been marred by some instances of inadequate balance and poor fact-checking.
An ABC Radio “World Today” report (Dec. 21) from Middle East correspondent Eric Tlozek implied Israel has a duty to provide coronavirus vaccines to all Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.
Tlozek absurdly stated that Gaza is under Israeli occupation, even though Israel withdrew completely from the territory in 2005 and many senior Hamas officials have publicly acknowledged it is now not occupied, albeit in Arabic.
The report included NGO Physicians for Human Rights spokesperson Ghada Majadle insisting Israel should be “purchasing, providing, and making sure the Palestinian population [is] getting the vaccines.”
Tlozek paraphrased an oversimplified version of Israel’s response, saying that “Israel’s health minister says the country’s not responsible for vaccinating Palestinians, even if they are under Israeli military occupation or blockade.”
In fact, under the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has a responsibility to provide health services and vaccines to Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza.
The story should also have included Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein’s widely reported comments that Israel has helped Palestinians all year “with equipment and with medicine” and will consider helping the Palestinians with acquiring vaccines.
The report also ignored the widely reported fact Israel was not asked by the PA to provide vaccines, in part because the PA had boycotted dialogue with Israel from May until December 2020, and had made arrangements to acquire a Russian-made vaccine.
A follow up on ABC Radio “AM” (Jan. 5) included Tlozek saying there are five million Palestinians under Israeli occupation – a figure that can only be reached by including Palestinians in Gaza. He again paraphrased the Israeli position, stating that Israel says “the Palestinian leadership hasn’t asked” for the vaccine.
Actually, Palestinian media also reported that no such request was made.
Palestinian Health Ministry Director-General Dr Ali Abd-Rabbo was heard claiming “international law” says Israel is legally required to provide vaccines because it is “the occupying force… regardless asking or not”.
No explanation of the legal basis for Israel’s position was included.
An AFP report run in the Australian on Dec. 21, the same day as Tlozek’s “World Today” radio story, noted, “Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi has said Israel might provide vaccinations for Palestinians.”
But the Australian’s Jan. 9 print edition was criticised for running a large photo of at least 100 empty graves above a Wall Street Journal-sourced report on Israel’s vaccination rollout and the Palestinian claims. On closer inspection, the photo’s caption read, “Gravediggers wearing protective suits bury a COVID-19 victim at Vila Formosa, Brazil’s biggest cemetery, in Sao Paulo” and it should have been positioned to make it clear it was related to a more relevant, different story elsewhere on the page.
The Australian’s online version of the report was criticised for claiming Israel occupies Gaza, which was not in the print edition.
Both versions of the article falsely stated that Gaza’s borders are “effectively controlled by the Israelis.” The enclave has a 15 km border with Egypt that is totally independent of Israel.
However, unlike the ABC’s reports, this story acknowledged that “Israeli officials say the PA has responsibility for its citizens’ healthcare, including procuring vaccines, under the terms of the 1990s Oslo Accords. Israel might provide excess vaccines to the Palestinians once its population is inoculated, the officials say.”
Edelstein was quoted denying Israel has a responsibility to vaccinate Palestinians but committing to cooperate with the PA “because it’s an Israeli interest.”
The report further included a PA spokesman saying Israel was not asked to provide the PA with vaccines.
On Jan. 18, CNN correspondent Sam Kiley told SBS TV “World News” newsreader Janice Petersen that Israel says the PA is “solely responsible for vaccination campaigns among Palestinians,” citing the Oslo Accords.
He noted that the PA has said it is trying to source vaccines but that is in stark “contrast to a world-leading vaccination campaign happening inside Israeli territory…[and] on the West Bank among Jewish settlers and indeed if you’ve got an Israeli ID and you are an Arab resident of east Jerusalem, you qualify.”
Kiley also said Israel has agreed that, in the long term, Palestinians will need to be vaccinated because of the close proximity of the two populations.