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pandemic tore israel apart

How Covid Policy Tore Israel Apart


Incitement, division, scapegoating and social polarization.

According to Jewish tradition, both the First Temple and the Second Temple were destroyed on the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, which fell on August 7th this year. 

Tradition also says that the destruction of the Temples and subsequent exiles were due to senseless hatred among the Jewish people.

Pandemics have always provided fertile ground for the flourishing of hatred, racism, incitement, extreme nationalism and even the murder of minorities.

The lack of scientific basis has not prevented various groups throughout history from using the term “disease spreaders” as a basis for policies based on scapegoating and incitement. 

The main reasons for this phenomenon are the human need to look for a scapegoat that can be blamed for a negative phenomenon and the ease with which leaders use the fear of illness and death to justify draconian measures against “the other.”

This was the case during the Black Death (bubonic plague) in Europe, which led to the murders of Jews—and worse during the Nazi regime, which presented the Jews as “typhoid-spreading lice”, long before the genocide against them began.

The quest for scientific and logical explanations is crucial for addressing society’s problems.

Looking for a scapegoat, on the other hand, indicates a deep and dangerous social psychosis that constitutes an escape from reality and cultivates deep divisions in society.

Covid is, on the one hand, a very contagious disease, but, on the other hand, it is not very fatal.

It is therefore not significantly different from many other viral diseases in terms of its effect on overall morbidity and mortality.

All human attempts to bring about the total extinction of Covid have been doomed to fail from the start.

However, the failure of all the efforts to fight Covid—starting with the sophisticated mathematical models, through the lockdowns, the masks, the attempts to identify and break chains of transmission and the mass vaccination of the entire population—did not result in drawing conclusions or in rethinking and recalibrating the response—but in the tendency to signal out “guilty parties.”

And when those managing the crisis failed time and again, the media, generously funded by the Israeli Ministry of Health and various interested parties, launched attacks against the scapegoats.

At first it was the ultra-Orthodox, who were accused of disobeying the lockdowns; then it was participants in demonstrations in front of the Prime Minister’s residence, and next it was the Arabs.

When the experimental vaccine arrived, the Ministry of Health announced that its effectiveness in protecting against severe illness and death was approximately 95%. It would have been reasonable to expect that anyone who was in a risk group or who for any other reason was anxious about Covid would choose to get vaccinated—and that the incitement and “othering” would then crawl back into the lair from whence they had emerged.

Horrifically, the exact opposite transpired.

The disappointment at the failure of the vaccine to provide the promised protection led to the emergence of the perfect scapegoats in the form of those who expressed “vaccine hesitancy” or those who were harmed by the vaccine and dared to speak out against it. 

Both groups alike were described as “anti-vaxxers,” Covid deniers, anti-science, ticking bombs, or even human Delta-variant submachine guns. They were characterized as people who should be silenced, prevented from moving in the public sphere or even be imprisoned and denied medical treatment —with calls to pester them and make their lives miserable until they forgo their abominable hesitancy.

The incitement and “othering” have deliberately and tragically led to divisions within families, classrooms, army units, and friends getting together in the evening to socialize.

Families broke up; parents stopped speaking with their children, brothers and sisters with their siblings; people lost their jobs, children in schools were bullied and incited against by their friends, soldiers were punished and their admission into elite units was blocked.

Those managing the crisis in Israel were forced to stop only when they were one step away from marking the unvaccinated with wrist bands and exposing them to the fury of an enraged public.

The incitement, like any incitement, was never morally justified. It was also devoid of any scientific justification. Indeed, it is clear today that the statements about preventing transmission of the Coronavirus by vaccination were based on false hopes at best.

Trust and cooperation among people who hold different opinions and beliefs, and between them and the authorities, are some of the basic elements of any democratic society. The price of “othering” and inciting citizens in a democratic country against each other is unbearable and harms the social and economic fabric.

What would motivate young soldiers to serve the state and even risk their life after the state trampled on their dignity because of their medical preferences or forced on them a medical procedure against their will?

Why would a parent want to give educational and parental support to a school that incited against their medical decisions regarding their own children?

Why would an employee be highly motivated to work and contribute to an employer that harmed them based on their personal decisions or forced them to submit to a medical procedure against their will?

The legislator and the courts must engage with what has been happening and treat incitement on medical grounds as they do any other offensive and dangerous incitement.

The Human Dignity and Liberty Law and other equality laws must be expanded to include an explicit prohibition against discrimination based on medical history and medical choices.

The rules of medical confidentiality between the patient and the entity treating them must be strengthened, and a person’s medical preferences and choices regarding vaccination, as well as any other treatment, should remain their private information.

The time to start healing the divide is now.

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  • Gilad Haran

    Gilad Haran is a professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Physics at the Weizmann Institute of Science. He served as the Dean of Chemistry in the Institute. Was involved in the development of the first-ever nano-drug, Doxil. Develops and applies in his lab novel methods for studying how proteins operate as tiny machines.

    View all posts
  • Shahar Gavish

    Shahar Gavish is a researcher at the Israeli Public Emergency Council For The Covid19 Crisis

    View all posts

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