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Saturday, March 6, 2021

Anatomy of the NGO Vaccine Libel

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Powerful organizations claiming moral agendas have increasingly gained political influence, especially through human rights and international law. In particular, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with massive budgets for public relations and lobbying have focused worldwide attention on favored targets — in some cases with justification, but in others to promote hate and conflict.

Israel has long been a target for demonization based on false claims, and the template NGOs use is familiar. It begins when NGO officials with a history of Israel-bashing launch a campaign based on allegations of dastardly deeds. The facts are twisted or invented, but since they are made by ostensible “experts,” the media — from fringe groups dedicated to the anti-Israel cause to mainstream journalists — repeat and amplify these falsities.

NGOs’ latest accusation is that Israel is violating its legal obligations by failing to provide vaccines to the Palestinians that live under Israeli occupation. As Israel’s success vaccinating its citizens became more visible and gained praise from around the world, the NGO conspiracy machine went into action, applying their standard template used so successfully in the past twenty years.

NGOs ignored convenient truths, such as the fact that the Palestinian Authority had no interest in Israeli assistance and had already ordered vaccines, in part via Russia and in part through the World Health Organization. Organizations and the media also dismissed the Oslo framework agreement governing relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which states that “Powers and responsibilities in the sphere of Health in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will be transferred to the Palestinian side, including the health insurance system.” Acknowledging the reality would have aborted the political campaign before it could get off the ground.

The NGO attack involved numerous organizations, many funded by European governments under the façade of promoting human rights, democracy and international law. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and Al Mezan took the lead, issuing a statement under the heading “Israel must provide necessary vaccines to Palestinian health care systems” and including the hand waving claims attributed to international law.

Officials of both organizations are involved with or linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a recognized terror group by the United States, the European Union (EU), Canada and other governments. These connections notwithstanding, both NGOs are funded primarily by the EU and western European governments and act as policy subcontractors. In addition, a number of Israeli opposition NGOs promoting the Palestinian narrative and also funded by Europe joined the public relations push.

To get the vaccine campaign out of the fringe anti-Israel arena, global NGO superpowers must enter the fray. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International did exactly that, repeating the accusations word for word. Kenneth Roth, the head of HRW with a long record of singling out Israel tweeted the package of libels to his 350,000 Twitter followers, declaring, “the Israeli government has already vaccinated 10% of its citizens ….but as the occupying power it has not vaccinated a single Palestinian.” Roth’s second tweet went for the emotional jugular by falsely invoking discrimination: “Someone doesn’t want you to know about Israel’s discriminatory treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in distributing the Covid vaccine.” Presumably, Roth’s followers will not know that Israel’s Arab citizens are receiving vaccinations exactly as their Jewish neighbors do, and that Palestinians outside of Israel are not citizens and have their own government and health system.

To get the vaccine campaign out of the fringe anti-Israel arena, global NGO superpowers must enter the fray.

At this point, the propaganda campaign jumped the tracks to the mainstream media, and from there, was ready to be quoted in the United Nations and by diplomats and politicians. Some outlets and journalists cited the various NGO accusations against Israel verbatim, without bothering to examine their accuracy or relevance. One headline in The Guardian read “Palestinians excluded from Israeli Covid vaccine rollout as jabs go to settlers.” Others were more circumspect in their coverage, referring to anonymous “Legal experts and human rights activists [who] said Israel was obliged to provide the Palestinians with vaccines.”

Like many previous NGO campaigns on Israel, the COVID-19 vaccination conspiracy theory is likely to remain and be cited for many years, regardless of the facts or the absence thereof. In 2002, during the height of Palestinian terror bombings, many of the same NGOs led the false allegation of an Israeli “massacre” and “war crimes” in the Jenin refugee camp. These attacks remain on their websites and in Wikipedia entries, available for student papers.  The same is true for many similar examples in the intervening years, all following the same pattern.

The result is not only more hate directed at Israel and Jews, contributing to violent attacks, but also the continuing erosion of human rights and international law as little more than propaganda tools. For those remaining committed to these principles, confronting the abuses of the ideological NGO industry is essential.


Gerald M. Steinberg is emeritus professor of political science at Bar Ilan University in Israel, and heads the Institute for NGO Research in Jerusalem. 

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