Forward Publishes Egregious Lie About Israeli Vaccinations


The Forward Corrects

After CAMERA informed journalists of the problems detailed here and alerted readers to the factual errors, the Forward appended an Editor's Note informing readers that, in fact, Israel's vaccine program does not discriminate based on ethnicity. See below for a detailed update.

Sari Bashi says she is "dismayed" that Israel distributes and withholds COVID-19 vaccines according to ethnicity. This charge of ethnic discrimination is the central premise of her March 8 Op-Ed in the Forward, which argues that Jews, because they're Jews, get the vaccine, while other ethnic groups, because they're not, do not. 

But it's readers of the Forward who should be dismayed, both by the printing of this brazen lie, and the web of deceit used to promote it.  

"The Ethnic Group Eligible for the Vaccine"

In Bashi's words, the Israeli government "is using ethnic, not medical, criteria to determine distribution" of its vaccines. And what is that "ethnic criteria"? The author purports to answer that question when stating, "I belong to the ethnic group eligible for the vaccine," and when later clarifying that she is a Jew. 

In other words, Bashi tells readers that "the ethnic group," singular, eligible for vaccination in Israel is the Jews. If this weren't clear enough, she restates the point more directly at the close of the piece: "In a system of apartheid, we don’t get to choose our place in the ethnic hierarchy. Because I am Jewish, the authorities bought me two doses of vaccine." Israel, she concludes, is "classifying people by ethnic identity — and allocating a life-saving resource accordingly." 

So malevolent and false are these claims that they make this Op-Ed in the Forward perhaps the most dishonest account of Israel's vaccination program that has appeared in the mainstream, English-language press. The charge that Israel withholds live-saving resources from those who aren't Jewish, moreover, not only echoes the ancient blood libel that accused Jews of the ritualistic killing of non-Jews, but also fuels the antisemitic slur that Jews care only about their own kind.

In fact — and it is an uncontroversial fact — Israel vaccinates its citizens without regard to ethnicity. It vaccinates its Jews. It vaccinates members of the country's large Arab minority, which numbers nearly two million. It vaccinates its Circassian and Samaritan citizens. And it vaccinates citizens of any other ethnicity.

Bashi surely knows this. Although she currently works for an organization called Democracy for the Arab World Now (which according to the group's website doesn't quite advocate for democracy in the wider Arab world, but rather focuses pressure on those Arab countries allied with the United States), she previously  worked at Human Rights Watch with a focus on Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip. In light of her background in the region, it's hard to conclude that the falsehoods and other manipulations that fill the piece are anything but intentional. 

Desperately Avoiding the Fundamental Fact

One might expect that an Opinion editor, when encountering a piece centered on such a grave and fallacious charge, would return it to sender, and inform the author that, at the very least, she'd be expected to acknowledge Israel's vaccination of its Arab citizens. But Bashi's piece doesn't acknowledge that. To the contrary, she seems to strain to convince readers that Israel's Arab citizens are denied vaccines. There's her false claim about Israel's "ethnic criteria." There's her false claim that Jews are "the ethnic group" that is eligible for vaccination. And then there's the sleight of hand that fills the piece.

Consider, for example, her assertion that Israel has “procured enough” vaccine to cover all of its nine million citizens. "Today," she states, "the Israeli government has procured enough high quality vaccine for all nine million adult Israeli citizens and residents, including two million Palestinian citizens of Israel." This is as close as she comes to letting readers know that Israel vaccinates all ethnicities in the country — and it's not very close. There is a significant difference, after all, between procuring enough vaccine for everyone and actually distributing the vaccine to everyone. In the context of Bashi's Op-Ed, the former is incriminating: It's not that Israel doesn't have enough vaccine for non-Jews; it's that it doesn't want to vaccinate them. 

And indeed, Bashi makes such a charge later in the piece:

The Israeli government exercises control over 14 million people who live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, including five million Palestinian residents of the occupied West Bank and Gaza. It refuses, however, to distribute vaccines to Palestinian residents, with the exception of 5,000 doses pledged for health care workers and a promise to vaccinate at least some of the more than 100,000 Palestinians employees of Israeli workplaces.

The Palestinian authorities have been able to obtain only small quantities of vaccine, purchased from Russia or donated by the UAE, and even the most vulnerable Palestinians have little chance of getting access. Their unmet need is painfully common in the context of global injustice in vaccine distribution, but it is egregious because the Israeli authorities governing them have extra vaccine doses in the freezer, and millions more on the way soon.

This assertion about doses in the freezer helps explain why Bashi wrote that Israel "procured" enough vaccines for its Jewish and Arab citizens instead of straightforwardly acknowledging that it distributes them to all these citizens. 

Palestinian Residents Don't Get Israeli Vaccines? 

And the passage above underscores an additional way the author muddles reality. The article uses the term "Palestinian" to describe two separate groups of people: Those living under Palestinian rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, who aren't citizens of Israel; and Arabs living in Israel, who are. And this blurry, imprecise language helps to bolster the piece's false premise. After all, if it's true that Israel has Palestinian citizens, and if it's also true that Israel "refuses" to vaccinate Palestinians, then it would seem Israel gives vaccines only to Jews. (The confusion, by the way, is wholly unnecessary. Notwithstanding clamor by outsider activists who insist "Palestinian" is the real identity of Arabs living in Israel, many polls show that the population in question self-identifies as both Arab and/or as Palestinian, with a distinct tilt toward the former.) 

Beyond the any confusion, though, the claim that Israel "refuses … to distribute vaccines to Palestinian residents" is flatly false. As already established, Israel does vaccinate an entire population, whom the author describes as Palestinian, and who reside between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea."

In more precise conversations about Israel, moreover, the term "Palestinian residents" generally is used when referring to the large population of non-citizen Arabs living in the eastern sector of Jerusalem. Does Israel refuse this group vaccines, then? No. As Bashi and the Forward know, Israel provides them with vaccines just as it does for its Jewish and Arab citizens. Of course, Bashi can't admit as much in her Op-Ed, as it would be yet another inconvenient fact that refutes her main premise. 

Effective Control Over Gaza

Another example of Bashi’s mendacious language is when she insists that “even the Israeli government acknowledges that the [Palestinian Authority] lacks effective control over Gaza and the West Bank.” The passage is meant to support the author’s contention that Israel is ultimately in charge of not just the West Bank, but even the Gaza Strip— or as the author put it elsewhere, that “Palestinian residents of Gaza and the West Bank … live under Israeli rule.” If even Israel admits as much, readers are meant to believe, surely it must be so!

Except the opposite is true. Israel is clear in its position that Gaza is not under its effective control. As Israel’s Supreme Court put it in the Al-Bassiouni case, ever since the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 “Israel no longer has effective control over what happens in the Gaza Strip.” (That assessment is shared by international legal scholars including Yuval Shany, Eyal Benvenisti, Ruth Lapidot, Marko Milanovic, Hanne Cuyckens, Eugene Kontorovich, and others.)

If Israel has “acknowledged” anything about the Palestinian Authority and Gaza, it is the well-known fact that Hamas, rather than the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, is in control there. But this certainly doesn’t mean Israel rules Gaza, as Bashi claims. And it doesn’t mean, as Bashi also claims, that Israel “controls the movement of people and goods into, out of and within … Gaza.” The Gaza Strip has a border crossing with Egypt, which is under the control of the Egyptians and Hamas, a reality underscored by the fact that Hamas recently imported 20,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine into the territory via Egypt.

Bashi Vs. Bashi

The import of those 20,000 vaccines by Hamas raises a final point about the author's concern for factual accuracy. To read Sari Bashi's piece closely is to conclude that Sari Bashi has a sharp disagreement with Sari Bashi — a strange phenomenon, but one that can certainly happen when anti-Israel activism takes precedent over truth. Because if one were to accept her false claim that Israel "rules" Gaza, that Israel "controls the movement of goods into … Gaza," and that Israel "approves or doesn’t approve the entrance of medical equipment and drugs" into Gaza, then it cannot simultaneously be true that Israel “refuses … to distribute vaccines" to Gaza, as she also claims. If Israel is responsible what goes into Gaza, then Israel is responsible for allowing those 20,000 vaccines to enter. 

It's a small example of the article's flailing, but an emblematic one. Israel vaccinates its citizens regardless of ethnicity. To nonetheless claim that Israel uses ethnic criteria to decide who gets the vaccines, purport that Jews are "the ethnic group" that is eligible for vaccination, and claim that "because I am Jewish, the authorities bought me two doses of vaccine," is to drag readers into a world where words have no meaning. In such a world, so what if Bashi contradicts herself? 

She might not care. But editors at a serious newspaper should.  

Update: An Editor's Note  

After CAMERA contacted editors regarding the false claim that Israel's COVID-19 vaccine program discriminates based on ethnicity and alerted the public to the misinformation, the Forward on March 12 appended the following Editor's Note to the top of the online piece:

Editor’s Note: Israel’s vaccination program for its citizens and residents does not discriminate based on ethnicity; Arab-Israelis and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are eligible along with Jews, as we reported in this Feb. 16 article, There is debate over Israel’s responsibility to vaccinate Palestinians under the Geneva Convention and the Oslo Accords, as we explained in this Feb. 24 article. We have also published two Letters to the Editor in response to the below Op-Ed; you can read them here and here.

Although regrettable that the falsehoods remained uncorrected for several days, we commend the Forward for ultimately acting to prevent further damage by the spread of its Op-Ed and its egregious falsehoods.

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