Jewish leaders on Monday called on The Observer newspaper apologise for a headline alleging that Israel was denying the Covid-19 vaccine to Palestinians.
Board of Deputies’ senior vice president Sheila Gewolb said she was “extremely troubled” by the headline and photo, saying it gives ammunition to antisemites despite being “blatantly false”.
The article, which appeared on Sunday morning, is titled: ‘Palestinians excluded from Israeli Covid vaccine rollout as jabs go to settlers.’
The sub-heading says human rights groups have accused Israel of “dodging obligations to millions in occupied territories” who may have to wait months.
Media agencies around the world have reported on how Israel has now vaccinated a million citizens with the Pfizer vaccine since the middle of December, but the Observer said Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza “can only watch and wait”.
Gewolb said the allegation that Israel “excluded” Palestinians was untrue. “The Palestinian Authority (PA) is responsible for vaccinations provided to Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza.
“The PA has not even asked Israel for help in this regard, looking to source the vaccines elsewhere. Israel is therefore vaccinating its own citizens, as every country in the world is trying to do. This includes millions of Arab citizens of Israel.”
The article said Israel “transports batches of the vaccine deep inside the West Bank but they are only distributed to Jewish settlers, not the roughly 2.7 million Palestinians living around them”.
Gewolb said the headline and accompanying picture, of an Orthodox Jew being vaccinated in Israel, “provides grist to the mill of far-right and far-left antisemites alike, who seek to take anything positive Israel does and twist it beyond recognition”.
She added that the newspaper “should change this headline immediately and issue an apology”.
An Observer spokesperson told Jewish News: “The story in question reported the concerns of human rights groups, including an Israeli human rights group.
“The Observer and the Guardian’s independent readers’ editor has not received a direct complaint from the Board of Deputies about the article. The readers’ editor will review the article and come to a conclusion about any comments, concerns, and complaints received.”
The Israeli embassy in London told Jewish News: “It is unfortunate to see that even on a topic such as the phenomenal success of the vaccination roll out in Israel which has saved human lives, there are still those who seek to paint the State of Israel in a negative light.
“The Palestinian Authority is responsible for its own health care system, as signed in the Oslo Accords, and it has not asked for any additional assistance in their current effort to secure vaccine.
“It is clear the State of Israel has a great interest to see the Palestinians vaccinated as soon as possible, as this is a humanitarian issue that affects the entire region. This virus has no borders.
“The State of Israel will continue to save lives by administering the vaccination in record time, and inspiring other countries across the world.”
Meanwhile Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited a Covid-19 vaccination facility in Umm Al-Fahm on Friday, meeting the millionth Israeli to get the jab. It later transpired that the 66-year-old man he met had served time in jail for manslaughter.
Netanyahu also visited a medical facility in the town of Tira to help encourage more vaccinations among the Israeli-Arab population.
“We brought millions of vaccines here, more than any other country in the world relative to its population, and we brought them to everyone: Jews and Arabs, religious and secular,” he said. “Everyone can – and needs to – be vaccinated.”
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