Israel’s vaccination success/ Iran’s 20 percent enrichment
Jan 8, 2021 | AIJAC staff
Update from AIJAC
There has been much media coverage of Israel’s world-leading effort to rapidly vaccinate its population against COVID-19. Since its vaccination program began on Dec. 19, and as of the latest data, Israel has vaccinated 1,593,000 citizens, including more than 60% of all Israelis over 60. This Update looks at how and why Israel was able to accomplish this – as well as some widespread misinformation about Israel’s supposed failure to vaccinate Palestinians.
It also includes a piece on the dramatic announcement by Iran that it is now enriching uranium to 20% – a level dangerously close to military grade.
We lead with Daniel Gordis, a rabbi, writer, thinker and immigrant to Israel, who calls Israel’s vaccine program a miracle that invokes Israel’s past – when social cohesion and unity were hallmarks of a country that was often under siege. He tells stories about both his own family’s vaccination and his own experience in moving to Israel which recall how Israelis have often seen themselves as something like a family, if one in which they were also at odds with many of the “relatives.” He notes that the new Middle East – where Israel is no longer under siege but has relations with most of its regional neighbours – may be very different from Israel’s early days, but expresses optimism that the warmth of the past and the promise of the future may yet be able to meld together for Israel. For this moving and insightful piece in full, CLICK HERE. Additional good comments on what the vaccine program says about Israel as a society come from Ira Stoll and Sherwin Pomerance.
Next up, Israeli reporter Lahav Harkov takes on an international media campaign of misinformation blaming Israel for supposedly vaccinating its own people while not vaccinating Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. She comprehensively debunks the basis of these claims, noting the Palestinian Authority has its own health system under the Oslo Accords, has never asked Israel to give it vaccines, has made its own arrangements to get vaccines, and Israel is actively trying to encourage the Palestinians it is responsible for – its own citizens and non-citizens resident in east Jeruslem – to get vaccinated. She also ties these claims to past antisemitic social media campaigns blaming Jews or Israel for the coronavirus crisis more generally. For this important debunking of a major media misstep, which amounts to repeating baseless libels put out by activists, CLICK HERE. More comment on these very problematic vaccine claims come from Seth Frantzman, Jonathan Tobin and Gerald Steinberg.
Finally, we offer American experts on the Iranian nuclear program Behnam Ben Taleblu and Andrea Stricker to discuss the significance of the Iranian enrichment of uranium to 20%. They note that this percentage – which Iran had previously reached in 2010-13 but agreed to stop – brings, given the technical nature of the enrichment process, Iran very close to producing weapons grade uranium. They say Iran is now pursuing this level of enrichment in stark violation of the JCPOA nuclear deal as a means to extort the new Biden Administration in the US, but argue that the lesson of this step is that the JCPOA always left the Iranians with the ability to weaponise at a time of their choosing, and thus cannot be the basis of a new effort to stop Iran’s nuclear drive going forward. For their complete argument, CLICK HERE. More on the significance of the 20% enrichment announcement, with some more technical details, comes from the Jewish Institute for the National Security of America (JINSA).
Readers may also be interested in…
- Israel’s vaccination blitz has come none-too-soon, with the country forced to return to a tight lockdown today by a surge in coronavirus cases over recent weeks.
- Some Israeli comments on the appalling scenes in Washington this week, where supporters of President Trump invaded the Capitol building and forced the Congress to evacuate as they were certifying the results of the election in November – from the Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel editor David Horovitz. Plus a comment from AIJAC’s US partner organisation, the American Jewish Committee.
- There is considerable evidence being published of antisemitic, extremist and racist slogans, symbols and groups being present during the Washington unrest – see here and here.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Naomi Levin’s exposure of antisemitic comments prompted by a conspiratorial post about recent events in the US by Australian One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts.
- Oved Lobel discusses the dangers for Israel in recent hints by Turkey that Ankara wants to renew normal relations with Jerusalem.
- Ahron Shapiro’s analysis of the fall of Israel’s unity government and moves to hold a fourth election in two years on March 23.
Vaccination Miracle Brings Israel Back to Its Roots
How is it leading the world in Covid-19 inoculations? A shared history of fighting for survival.
By Daniel Gordis
Israeli health care worker getting their vaccines at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital. The vaccine program helped restore a sense of unity in Israel that many thought was a thing of the past.
Labor was Israel’s founding party, the party of its first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, the party that ruled almost absolutely for Israel’s first 29 years. Thus, Labor’s apparent demise is yet another indicator that the Israel of 1948 is all but gone.
The image of Israel as a small country surrounded by enemies is giving way to a new Middle East in which Israel has peace with Egypt and Jordan, normalized relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, made progress with Morocco and, apparently, movement with Saudi Arabia. A country that barely held on in the face of what seemed imminent economic collapse in the 1950’s is now a technology powerhouse and boasts a formidable economy. Its population has grown tenfold since 1948, from approximately 800,000 in 1948 to 8.6 million now.
While Israelis take pride in all they’ve accomplished, we are often wistful for the simpler, more innocent Israel of yesteryear. We miss that sense of social cohesion that once felt omnipresent, the sense of shared destiny that early socialist roots cultivated.
Few would have predicted that the simple process of getting vaccinated against Covid-19 would restore, however briefly, the Israel we sometimes long for.
Every Israeli citizen is a member of one of a handful of national HMO’s, so we are fairly easily reached. A couple of days before the vaccinations were set to begin — first for frontline medical staff and the next day for those 60 years old and above — we got emails inviting us to make an appointment. The demand was overwhelming, but after a few tries, I got us appointments for the end of the first day that the vaccine would be available to non-medical staff.
As the vaccinations were being given in one of Jerusalem’s large sports arenas, I anticipated utter bedlam, the sort of Israeli chaos that I usually can’t stand, and drove to the arena with a bit of dread. But I was entirely mistaken. Inside, there was a hushed calm, even a sense of sanctity.
We waited only a very few minutes, and as I looked at the eyes of other people waiting, their faces hidden behind their masks, I could tell that I was not the only one overwhelmed by a profound sense of gratitude for being part of this country. None of us knew — and still don’t — how exactly Israel managed to procure so many doses of a vaccine developed in part by an American company but still not easily obtainable in America. But we were deeply grateful that it had.
The small army of nurses and medical techs injecting one person after another with utter efficiency was that old Israel, the Israel that knows how to come together when facing a mortal enemy. It’s a different sort of enemy this time, but the battle still evoked that abiding belief in our national resilience.
When my family moved to Israel more than 20 years ago, we were astonished that our 12-year-old daughter and her friends would stay out with their youth group until 1 a.m. Parents didn’t worry about their daughters being out late at night, and for the most part, they still don’t.
Rabbi, author, thinker and immigrant to Israel Daniel Gordis.
This is still a country that when a little kid is crying outside without an adult in obvious proximity, people scoop him or her up and wait for someone to show; it never crosses their mind that parents would object to their child being held by strangers, just as it rarely occurs to a parent that anything untoward is going to happen to their lost child. These past few weeks have evoked once again that Israel that sees itself as a family.
Still, I was momentarily confused as we waited the required 15 minutes after the shot before leaving, as staff members walked around handing out copies of little booklets. “Games for children?” they asked quietly, offering people as many copies as they wanted. “What on earth are these for?” I wondered. “We’re not vaccinating kids, it’s nighttime and there isn’t a kid in sight. Except for the staff we’re all over 60. Who needs kids’ games?”
And then it struck me, as people happily and gratefully took copies of the booklet — and then asked for another copy or two. The booklets weren’t for us — they were for our grandchildren. The HMO intuited why so many of us were there that night; we hadn’t hugged our grandchildren in almost nine months. Obviously, we were also relieved to reduce the possibility of getting sick, but somebody in an office somewhere, far from the arena, understood instinctively who would be getting on line first, and why.
Friends of ours, just a few years too young to have been eligible for the vaccine, look after an elderly woman who lives not far from them. When she needs a ride or assistance with something, they’re there for her. She, of course, was eligible, and got an appointment; so they drove her downtown to her HMO’s location. Parking downtown is often impossible, so they went together — the wife would take the woman inside while the husband waited in the car.
But a few minutes later, my friend told me, his wife called, told him to park the car and come inside right away. “They’re going to vaccinate us,” she told him. When he reminded the nurse that they weren’t really eligible because they were still too young, she simply said, “You brought in an elderly person who needed to get here? You deserve to get the vaccine,” and soon thereafter, the three of them walked out, vaccinated.
It reminded him, he told me, of that Israel that so many of us miss.
At moments, in these recent weeks, the warmth of the past and the promise of the future seemed to meld. A prominent Arab physician from the Galilee told another friend of mine what these past months of being on the front lines have felt like to him. “Usually, when Israel goes to war,” he said to her, “we’re not in the army, we can’t help. But this time, Israel went to war again, and we Arabs got to be soldiers, too!” When she wiped a tear from her eye, she told me, his eyes also watered.
Israel has now inoculated nearly a million people. Israel’s is a very young population, so almost a third are too young to get the vaccine anyway — which means that in two weeks, this country vaccinated just shy of 20% of eligible citizens. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose political future looked precarious just a week or two ago, is hoping that a national sense of gratitude for this extraordinary accomplishment might just catapult him back into office — and things could well play out that way. After crises, Israelis often rip their governments apart; in the midst of the challenge, though, they often bond together, even at the ballot box.
Israel, like most countries, still has enormous obstacles to address, many of them important, a few of them existential. But there are still moments here when we recognize that this is not a country like any other. It is a country that was founded to give sanctuary to a particular people that desperately needed it, one that has weathered more in seven decades than most countries do in centuries, and that has produced a sort of familial resilience that can’t be replicated anywhere else.
For decades, Israelis have often gazed across the ocean at Americans, wondering when we could be just like them. These past few weeks, we’ve been profoundly grateful to be just who we are.
Daniel Gordis is senior vice president and Koret distinguished fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem. His latest book is “We Stand Divided: The Rift Between American Jews and Israel.”
Media adopts canard Israel denies vaccine to Palestinians – analysis
Major media outlets are playing a role in promoting the lie that Israel is somehow barring Palestinians from getting vaccinated against coronavirus.
By LAHAV HARKOV
An Arab Israeli woman being vaccinated on January 4. Israel is providing vaccines to all its citizens (PHOTO: JACK GUEZ/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES)
In March, the Anti-Defamation League published an article on its website called “Coronavirus crisis elevates antisemitic, racist tropes.”
The article featured images shared by white supremacists and anti-Israel antisemites on social media and messaging apps accusing Jews of, among other things, intentionally spreading COVID-19. One example was a cartoon of the IDF trapping an elderly Palestinian woman with the spiky balls that have come to symbolize COVID-19.
Not among the examples? Major media outlets. Ten months later, quite a few could be added to the list of contemporary examples of the centuries-old antisemitic libel that Jews spread diseases.
Twitter accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers have been spreading the libel that Israel, the world leader in vaccinating its population against COVID-19, is intentionally leaving the Palestinians to languish in the middle of a pandemic. But that’s Twitter; anyone with an opinion can express it, even if it’s not based on facts.
Yet, in recent days, supposedly respectable news sites that are supposed to check facts and be accountable to the truth are spreading the same bile as Iranian Holocaust-denial cartoon contest runner-up Carlos Latuff in that example from the ADL article.
“As Israel leads in COVID-19 vaccines per capita, Palestinians still await shots,” the NPR headline reads, implying some kind of correlation.
“Palestinians left waiting as Israel is set to deploy COVID-19 vaccine,” read an Associated Press headline, reprinted by countless news outlets, including PBS and Al Jazeera.
A Guardian article lamented in its headline: “Palestinians excluded from Israeli Covid vaccine rollout as jabs go to settlers.”
“Human rights groups accuse Israel of dodging obligations to millions in occupied territories who may wait months for vaccination,” reads the subhead.
If you perused these purported newspapers of records’ coverage of the coronavirus vaccine rollout, you would get the impression that Israel has engaged in some kind of conspiracy to, well, trap the Palestinians with the spiky coronavirus balls.
You have to get halfway through the Guardian story before you reach the following: “Despite the delay, the [Palestinian] Authority has not officially asked for help from Israel. Coordination between the two sides halted last year after the Palestinian president cut off security ties for several months.”
In other words, the Palestinian leadership refused to even talk to Israel when the latter was ordering vaccine doses, let alone coordinate a complex rollout operation. Before that, the UN’s official news site published an article titled: “COVID-19: UN envoy hails strong Israel-Palestine cooperation.”
In response to a petition from an NGO claiming Israel is not helping the Palestinians enough, the government in May reported to the High Court of Justice a long list of actions it had taken, including holding training courses for medical teams and lab technicians and donating coronavirus testing kits.
In other words, Israel had been willing to help before the Palestinians cut ties. And more recently, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein last month told The New York Times it is in Israel’s interest to help stop the virus from spreading among Palestinians, adding that he has “no doubt it will be done.”
As Khaled Abu Toameh reported in this paper two weeks ago, “The Palestinians do not expect Israel to sell them, or purchase on their behalf, the vaccine from any country… the Palestinians will soon receive nearly four million Russian-made vaccines against COVID-19. The PA, with the help of the World Health Organization, has managed to secure the vaccine from other sources.”
The PA’s current assessment is that they will begin to receive doses of the Sputnik V and AstraZeneca vaccines in February. This is comparable with neighboring countries in the region, including those with major Palestinian populations such as Lebanon and Jordan, which have not rolled out vaccination operations, and with many other poor countries participating in the WHO vaccine aid program.
International media is ignoring the fact the Palestinian Authority has its own independent health system – including Istishari Arab Hospital in Ramallah, above – and has made its own arrangments to get COVID-19 vaccines and has not asked Israel to supply them.
HERE ARE some other pertinent facts: The Oslo Accords, though a group of interim agreements and not a final-status peace treaty, are widely considered an international legally binding agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. They stipulate that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for healthcare, including vaccinations, for Palestinians in Judea and Samaria and Gaza.
The PA has been keeping its end of the bargain on that front for nearly 30 years, something that news outlets whose reporters constantly quote the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry’s reports of damage inflicted by Israel surely already know.
Also a fact: Israel is actually already vaccinating Palestinians – the ones in east Jerusalem. They are not citizens of Israel, just residents, but their healthcare is under Israel’s purview per the Oslo Accords, and those who are 60 or older or have a chronic condition can be vaccinated in Israeli HMOs in their neighborhoods. Israel plans to vaccinate even more Palestinians who are in Israeli prisons.
More facts: Israel’s vaccine operation has run in predominately Arab areas in Israel from day one. Out of a concern that not enough eligible Israeli Arabs have been showing up at the vaccination sites, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited two Arab cities in recent days. (Admittedly, this dovetails with his political strategy of trying to attract Arab votes to Likud.)
In other words, there isn’t some kind of policy of ethno-religious discrimination. The opposite is true: The government is actively trying to encourage the minority population, Arab-Israelis, to get vaccinated.
Why have so many supposedly respectable outlets gotten this story wrong? There is the general adage in news that “if it bleeds, it leads,” that a feel-good news item like a successful vaccination operation will not get as much traction as a more tragic-sounding story. There are the usual reasons when it comes to anti-Israel bias in the media, about which many books have been written.
In this particular case, it looks like some reporters are being led by the nose by activists with a certain point of view. The accusation that Israel is to blame for the PA’s slower vaccine rollout has trended on activist and NGO social media in recent weeks. The reporters follow these activists, and the seed gets planted in their minds.
Considering the fact that the PA didn’t even ask for Israel’s help, it’s apparent that activists spreading the falsehoods that have since gotten into the news are not even aiming for a result that the Palestinian leadership wants; it’s all about attacking Israel.
As former Labor MK Einat Wilf wrote on Twitter: “Israel advances status of LGBTQ? ‘Pinkwashing’ Israelis lead world as vegans? ‘Veganwashing’ Israel sets up first mobile hospital in devastated Haiti? ‘Harvesting organs’ Israeli is global vaccination leader? ‘What about Palestinians?’ A bit pathetic, no?”
It should be reporters’ and editors’ jobs to see through people who are looking for any way to portray Israel in a negative light, rather than amplify their biases.
The good news is that the Foreign Ministry and UN Watch are not aware of any actions or complaints by government officials who may have fallen for this libel.
“These reports are based on a lie,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said. “Everyone who knows the facts knows that… Most of the reports on the vaccines are very, very positive.”
Luckily, in the real world, not everyone is “very online” and taking anti-Israel tweets as gospel. But the fact that the narrative echoing old antisemitic canards of Jews spreading diseases has taken root in some major media quarters is still reason for alarm.
Tehran’s 20 Percent Enrichment is Designed to Extort Washington
Behnam Ben Taleblu and Andrea Stricker
Iran has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that it is now enriching uranium to 20 percent purity at its underground Fordow enrichment facility. The move is Tehran’s most egregious violation of the 2015 nuclear deal, officially titled the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), to date. It serves as a dangerous reminder that the regime has always retained the ability to weaponize its nuclear program—both literally and for extortion and intimidation—at any time of its choosing.
The Islamic Republic is reportedly using six cascades of its 1,044 currently installed first-generation IR-1 gas centrifuges at Fordow to increase the concentration of uranium-235 in 4.1 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride feedstock to 20 percent. In other words, it’s producing uranium that qualifies as “highly enriched”—the level needed for nuclear weapons. Although states prefer to enrich uranium to higher purities for nuclear weapons—typically to 90 percent or “weapons-grade”—producing 20 percent enriched uranium takes most of the overall effort required to make weapons-grade uranium. In other words, Tehran’s 20 percent gambit drastically cuts down the time needed to get “weapons-grade” uranium.
Technically, Iran is resuming 20 percent enrichment, having previously attained this level from 2010 to 2013. While the United States and the European Union had traditionally diverged in their approaches to Iran, that historic peak in enrichment was key to bringing them together to address the nuclear issue through tough sanctions. In November 2013, the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran reached an interim nuclear deal known as the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA).
Starting in 2014, in exchange for partial sanctions relief, Iran halted 20 percent enrichment but retained the equipment and knowledge to resume it at will. With the attainment of the JCPOA in 2015, despite continuing to enrich at lower levels, Iran managed to score another victory and keep the Fordow facility open. Iranian officials prize Fordow for its alleged “invulnerability” to military strikes, and was initially built in secret to produce weapons-grade uranium for its early crash nuclear weapons effort.
Fast forward to the aftermath of the killing of Iran’s top military nuclear scientist in November 2020. The country’s hardline parliament passed a law calling for a resumption of enrichment at 20 percent purity, among other escalatory measures. Seen in this light, Tehran’s decision to go to 20 percent avenges the loss of a key scientist, but still aims to elicit sanctions relief from the incoming Biden administration, should the new president hesitate to reenter the JCPOA, exited in May 2018 under President Donald Trump.
The move also signals, however, a greater tolerance for risk taking, which if not met with equal pressure, will be a harbinger of greater challenges. The Islamic Republic embarked in May 2019 on a policy of graduated escalation, designed to raise American security risks while overtly violating the JCPOA. But even then, it still did not cross the 20 percent threshold. That is, until now.
A picture taken on November 10, 2019, shows an Iranian flag in Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant, during an official ceremony to kick-start works on a second reactor at the facility. (ATTA KENARE / AFP/GETTY)
Two factors helped to dampen Iran’s drive to resume 20 percent enrichment. The first was the Trump administration’s demonstrated willingness to meet pressure with pressure, and the second was the regime’s desire to keep the transatlantic community divided and Europe in Tehran’s corner.
Now, with the Trump administration’s term in office nearing a close and Europe unable to serve as a foil to American economic pressure, elites in Iran understand that greater nuclear boldness is likely to result in a greater reward. Specifically, given that the incoming U.S. administration seeks a departure from the Trump administration’s policies, the recent escalation is perfectly timed to add leverage to the Iranian position if nuclear negotiations commence.
Today, Iran’s resumption of 20 percent enrichment at Fordow positions it to quickly and consistently reduce the time it requires to make adequate fissile material for a nuclear weapon. Selling this policy on Twitter, Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif framed 20 percent enrichment as a “reversible” move. But in so doing, he inadvertently shined a light on a fact American policymakers failed to heed before, but must now acknowledge if they seek a durable non-proliferation agreement with Iran: any deal that relies on political compromise alone to check the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions is a non-starter.
President-elect Biden would be wise to recognize that staying the course on American pressure is the only hope for reaching a better deal and addressing Iran’s nuclear threat once and for all.
Behnam Ben Taleblu is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Andrea Stricker is a research fellow.