Scribblings: The vaccine libel as case study
Jan 28, 2021 | Tzvi Fleischer
There have been widespread reports in the media of claims from some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that Israel is violating the Geneva Conventions by failing to supply coronavirus vaccines to West Bank and Gaza Palestinians while it vaccinates its own population.
Nonsense, of course, but it’s an interesting case study of how anti-Israel propaganda points originate and spread. As Israel started getting positive publicity for its world-beating coronavirus vaccination program in late December, two primarily European-funded far-left Israeli NGOs, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHR-I) and Gisha, received coverage in the international media on Dec. 17 and 18 demanding Israel supply vaccines to the Palestinians.
A few days later, on Dec. 22, these groups and some other similar foreign-funded Israeli and Palestinian groups published a joint statement making similar demands and laying out the alleged legal justification for their claims.
This was Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which they said meant that an “occupier has the duty of ensuring ‘the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.’”
It is notable that they did not quote all of Article 56, because that would have defeated their purpose. It also states that the occupying power is to act with “the cooperation of national and local authorities” to ensure health care. Furthermore, a 1958 International Red Cross interpretation of that article, generally acknowledged as legally binding, says that “there can be no question of making the Occupying Power alone responsible for the whole burden of organizing hospitals and health services and taking measures to control epidemics. The task is above all one for the competent services of the occupied country itself.”
In other words, the accepted international law is that, under occupation, local authorities – in this case the Palestinian Authority (PA) health care system – are primarily responsible for dealing with healthcare, including in epidemics. This is exactly what Israel had been saying all along, even while offering to help if asked. Furthermore, it is also the language of the Oslo Accords which created the PA and also represents binding international law.
Yet these NGOs continued to insist the Geneva Conventions – which do not even apply since Israel is not an occupier under the plain language of those conventions – override Oslo. But they don’t, because there is no contradiction between them on healthcare – unless you insist on a tendentious interpretation of the Geneva Conventions developed specifically to target Israel.
The NGOs also made the emotive but irrelevant point that kept popping up in news stories that Israeli settlers in the West Bank were getting the vaccines but Palestinians living there were not.
Weeks later, PA officials jumped on the bandwagon of condemning Israel for failing to supply vaccines, even though they never had asked for any. This is because Palestinian political culture would not let them pass up a chance to score points against Israel, but the PA was not the source of these claims. In fact, early reports on Israel’s efforts featured PA spokespeople explaining their own efforts to obtain vaccines rather optimistically – efforts expected to come to fruition in late January with vaccines from Russia.
The source of this libel was radical NGOs which are paid, primarily by European governments, to foment international condemnation and pressure Israel in whatever way they can think of. This often requires making up novel interpretations of international law to do so – as in this case.
The media needs to recognise this reality, and treat their sometimes ridiculous claims with a bit more scepticism.
The Hate which obstructs peace
In the West today, almost no one admits to being antisemitic and hating Jews except white supremacists and neo-Nazis. That is not to say that antisemitism is not present – a recent study in Britain found 45% of British adults agreed with at least one of six antisemitic tropes put to them by researchers, such as Jews control the media, “chase money”, or “talk about the Holocaust just to further their political agenda.” Twelve percent agreed with four or more of them. Yet I am willing to bet that few of those people would agree that they were antisemitic, or would say they hate Jews.
This was not always the case before 1945. In the 19th century there were reasonably respectable organisations with names like the International Anti-Jewish Congress and the Ligue Nationale Antisemitique de France (‘French Antisemitic League’).
That would be pretty unthinkable today in the West – but many people do not appreciate that this is not true in the Middle East. While Middle Eastern leaders have mostly learned to focus their comments on Israel or Zionism to minimise a Western backlash, real old-fashioned, openly avowed antisemitism is still very much an accepted part of many of their societies. To give but one example, have a look at this flag.
It’s the flag of the Houthi movement, an Iranian-allied Shi’ite group, which to this day controls the majority of Yemen, including the capital, Sana’a. Here’s what it says:
“God is the Greatest, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse the Jews, Victory to Islam”
No euphemism there. Hatred of Jews is fundamental to the group’s identity, and openly proclaimed.
This is hardly unique.
One has only to look through translation services like the Middle East Media Research Institute and Palestinian Media Watch, as I do regularly, to see similar blatant antisemitism unrelated to Israel appearing constantly – claims straight out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, references to a genocidal Muslim religious tradition about Muslims killing all Jews before the Day of Judgement, Holocaust denial, positive references to Hitler, etc.
This blatant antisemitism matters – it makes peace and coexistence all but impossible. It’s one likely reason Israel’s peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan never blossomed into warm people-to-people relations – too much ingrained hatred of Jews.
This is another reason why the Abraham Accords between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain are so valuable. Not only is this proving to be a warm peace with real human contact between citizens, but it is also explicitly predicated on treating Jews as native to the region. That’s why these were called the “Abraham” Accords, referencing the common ancestor of Jews and Arabs and Christians and Muslims. And tellingly, this was not an Israeli idea, but one the UAE apparently pushed for.
The Abraham Accords are set to transform the Middle East region in numerous positive ways. None are perhaps more important than potentially making a dent in the baseless Jew hatred which has plagued it for so long.