January 28, 2021
In honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Museum of Jewish Heritage held a special event, “18 Voices: A Liberation Day Reading Of Young Writers’ Diaries From The Holocaust.” We sit down with Broadway actress Mandy Gonzalez, who read diary excerpts during the virtual reading, and Alexandra Zapruder, curator of “18 Voices” and author of “Salvaged Pages.”
Then, we speak to Lahav Harkov, Senior Contributing Editor and Diplomatic Correspondent for The Jerusalem Post, about Israel’s record-shattering vaccine rollout and the controversy over access for Palestinians.
Finally, to close out the episode, past president of AJC Westchester/Fairfield Beverly Block Rosenbaum shares the story of her mother, a survivor of multiple concentration camps who was told by a Nazi officer that she was “too pretty to be a Jew,” to which she bravely replied: “I am a Jew and I’m proud of it.”
- (00:45) Mandy Gonzalez
- (11:28) Alexandra Zapruder
- (27:41) Lahav Harkov
- (38:15) Beverly Block Rosenbaum
- (43:32) Manya Brachear Pashman
- (46:48) Seffi Kogen
Transcript of Interview with Lahav Harkov
on Israel’s COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout and the Palestinians
Seffi Kogen (27:42)
Since the global vaccine rollout began, one country has soared to the top of the charts outpacing every other nation in vaccinating its citizens. Even as we wish the rollout in the US were going more smoothly, I know a lot of us American Jews take tremendous pride that that great success story is Israel. Joining us now to discuss is someone who has reported on the vaccine rollout, the senior contributing editor and diplomatic correspondent of the Jerusalem Post Lahav Harkov. Thank you so much for joining us.
Lahav Harkov (28:13)
Thanks for inviting me onto the podcast.
Seffi Kogen (28:15)
First off, can you just give us the short version of Israel's vaccine success? How much of the population is vaccinated as of today? Are there concerns about vaccine supply? That kind of thing.
Lahav Harkov (28:28)
Huge numbers. I mean, like more than 20% of the population. I don't have the exact update for today, but very large numbers of Israelis. It started out with, you know, people who are aged 60 and up. And now today, it's just been open to age 35 and up, as well as 16- to 18-year-olds so they could take their exams and finish high school. And yeah, there's not so much a concern of running out. There was a couple of weeks ago, but then Israel was able to quickly get more doses. And so it just seems that we're very efficiently vaccinating everyone, or everyone who's 16 and older by age group. And it's a big success on two different camps. First of all, it's a big success for our health system, which is very, very good.
Seffi Kogen (29:13)
This success didn't come out of nowhere, right? Like what's the secret sauce? What kind of circumstances conspired to enable Israel to lead the world in vaccinations?
Lahav Harkov (29:23)
I mean, beyond Israel's excellent health services that I described and it's somewhat unique system, Netanyahu sort of took this on as a really important project as he saw as the way to sort of reopen Israel, and he got personally involved. I just listened to him speak to the World Economic Forum, usually in Davos, now on the internet, about his efforts. He said he spoke to the CEO of Pfizer 21 times, and the sales pitch he made to Pfizer and to Moderna is that Israel is a perfect test population. We're not such a big country, and that you know, if you give all the Israelis vaccines quickly, you can then watch the population and see what the effect is, as well as also giving a small amount of data to these companies. That was sort of part of the deal after we finished the first batch of vaccines to get the second batch of vaccines quickly, some of the deal was, they're not giving like personal data per person, but they're giving like overall population data so that the companies can view the trends. And so people from Europe, for example, who, like you know, are barely getting vaccinated, and they're wondering why the EU is so slow. So Netanyahu sort of negotiated this to make things go as fast as he can.
Seffi Kogen (30:30)
It's incredible. It's an amazing success story. Unfortunately, about as soon as the success story started to take off and kind of be heard around the world, there were other stories that started circulating. And here this kind of maybe touches on some of your day to day work as a diplomatic correspondent, these stories were blaming Israel for not vaccinating the Palestinians. Obviously, I mean, I feel comfortable saying this about myself, and I think I can extend it to you, none of us want to see Palestinians or anyone else dying from the virus. But what do you make of these stories? I mean, in your journalistic research, have you or your colleagues discovered Israel to have any such responsibility?
Lahav Harkov (31:07)
So first of all, of course, you know, I would like people to be healthy and not catch Coronavirus, and that includes Palestinians. But even beyond the sort of humane side of it, Israel should want Palestinians to be vaccinated for “selfish reasons,” because we are a population that mixes a lot, you know, the borders aren't... Yes, there are checkpoints. And yes, there's a security barrier, but these are populations that mix a lot and until the Palestinians get Coronavirus under control, which they're doing pretty well all things considered, but unless they get it under control, you know, it'll continue to affect us as well. So there's that. As far as the legal responsibility, under international law, an occupying force has to arrange for the health care of the occupied population. Now, for starters, Israel does not consider itself an occupying power. The territory is disputed. It's not occupied territory, at least under how Israeli legal authorities understand the situation to be. Regardless, Israel did arrange for health care for the Palestinians by signing the Oslo Accords, which puts health very firmly under the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority. And it explicitly talks about, you know, that vaccines are the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry’s responsibility. It also says that Israel and the Palestinians will cooperate on fighting pandemics, which is something that Israel and the Palestinians have done. In the beginning of the pandemic, Israel provided guidance, provided testing kits, to the extent that the UN, even the UN, which is so anti-Israel commended Israel and the Palestinians for the cooperation. You could like google it. Israel, the Palestinians, though the word they used was excellent, that they're doing an excellent job cooperating. But then in about May, because of the Trump peace plan, and Israel considering extending its sovereignty to Samaria, the Palestinian Authority cut ties with Israel and didn't renew the ties basically, until after Biden was elected. And you know, in that time period, Israel ordered vaccines. even after the Palestinian Authority never asked Israel for help with the vaccines. So Israel went along and took care of its own population, as opposed to you know, the neighboring population that does have its own, you know, basically autonomous government. The Palestinian Authority has taken care of its own vaccinations. Obviously, you know, Israel is number one in the world by far right now with vaccines, but it's participating in the World Health Organization's vaccine aid program. And they've also used some of their own funding to order the Russian vaccine and the AstraZeneca vaccine. They couldn't get Pfizer or Moderna, which were the first ones that were available, because they didn't have the facilities to keep it in a deep freeze, which was what's required. And they're supposed to start getting vaccines, actually, last week from Russia. And then there was some sort of technical issue because Israel and the Palestinian Authority had actually already coordinated it, and Israel was ready to facilitate that transfer, but then it never happened, and I'm pretty sure that was like the news over the weekend. Today's Wednesday when we're recording this and I haven't heard an update since the weekend on that. But certainly Israel’s not doing anything to block Palestinians from getting the vaccine, which is something that a lot of news reports have said. Beyond that, Israel is vaccinating some Palestinians who are in Israeli prisons. Israel just started doing that a few days ago. And also if the claim is that Israel is racist and is trying to kill the Arabs, which is both absurd and obscene, well, Israeli Arabs have the exact same access to vaccines as any other Israelis do. Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem are under Israel's health services, so they're not even Israeli citizens, and they're getting the vaccines as well.
Seffi Kogen (34:53)
You have to imagine the counterfactual also because the Israeli presence in the West Bank is a military one. So what would it look like if IDF trucks and troops roll in to Palestinian villages, vaccine in tow, and, you know, start saying to Palestinians line up for us to inject you with this thing. I mean, there's no trust there at the Palestinian civilian level. Frankly, I'm not sure how much trust there is in their own health authorities necessarily either. But like that, too, would have been a major balagan, as they say.
Lahav Harkov (35:27)
Yeah, I mean, you have, like professors at Rutgers claiming that Israel harvests Palestinian organs, even when nothing remotely looks like Israel's doing that. So can you imagine if Israeli soldiers were injecting Palestinians with something, even if it was so well intentioned? When Israel has good intentions, nobody gives us credit for it. So you could imagine. The whole thing is absurd. I mean, yeah, the idea that Israeli soldiers are going to walk into Ramallah and start giving people injections is ridiculous. And as I said, you know, by international law, Israel signed the Oslo Accords, which is also an internationally recognized agreement, and so Israel is not responsible, because the health care is arranged for.
Seffi Kogen (36:08)
The Palestinian Authority also did not ask Israel for this help, so it's very odd for people who, on the one hand, are saying that it's time for the Palestinians to be a sovereign nation, self-governing, with self-determination, etc, and then on the other hand, say that Israel needs to swoop in, even absent the Palestinians requesting this kind of aid, and kind of insist we're vaccinating your population.
Lahav Harkov (36:32)
They didn't ask for help for months. And then after this became like a scandal and a news story.
Seffi Kogen (36:38)
It was politically expedient to ask for help at a certain point, right?
Lahav Harkov (36:41)
Then suddenly they were like, Oh, yeah, maybe Israel could help us. Israel transferred 20 doses of the vaccine a few weeks ago, like at the beginning of the month, that the Palestinians had asked for.
Seffi Kogen (36:50)
Lahav Harkov (36:51)
Seffi Kogen (36:53)
Like enough to vaccinate 10 people?
Lahav Harkov (36:55)
Yeah, this is what we discovered, me and our Palestinian affairs reporter Khaled Abu Toameh, who did the heavy lifting I will admit in the story. Basically, the Palestinian Health Ministry didn't know about it, but the Palestinian Authority denies that it's going to senior members of the Palestinian Authority. The unprompted denial tells me that it's probably for Mahmoud Abbas and several other, you know, septuagenarians in his immediate vicinity. It's in Israel's interest to be stability in the Palestinian Authority.
Seffi Kogen (37:26)
Well, Lahav, this was a great quick, summary, help us all get kind of boned up on this non-scandal and also take a little bit of pride in the way that Israel has been handling the vaccine rollout. If you have not been vaccinated yet, I hope that your day comes soon. And we thank you so much for joining us on People at the Pod.
Lahav Harkov (37:43)
This is the thing that makes me feel young, that I still am not eligible for the vaccine.
Seffi Kogen (37:48)
Yeah, me neither, but in America, that just means I'm under the age of 65. Thank you so much for joining us on People at the Pod.
Lahav Harkov (37:55)