Vaccine Resisters Threaten Israel’s World-Leading Program

Benjamin Netanyahu has proposed spurring Israel’s sputtering coronavirus vaccination drive by “outing” the uninoculated, drawing backlash from critics who call it an infringement on privacy.

The prime minister is pushing legislation that would give local authorities the names of all unvaccinated people “to encourage them to be vaccinated and save lives.” Amir Fuchs, a senior researcher at the Israeli Democracy Institute, says this would only whip up anti-vaccine sentiment by creating a feeling of persecution.

“You can’t put a person in a position where he has to choose whether to get medical treatment or become a criminal offender,” Fuchs said.

The Netanyahu government has assumed emergency powers during the pandemic, and this proposal follows other contentious steps such as allowing a spy agency to use phone-tracking technology to identify possible virus carriers.

Israel’s internationally scrutinized vaccine campaign is the world’s leader, with more than 40% of the population inoculated at least once. But the number of daily shots has plunged by almost half from a Jan. 21 peak, as certain segments of society prove more hesitant due to anti-vaccination drives, superstitions, distrust of authority and a sense of youthful invincibility.

That’s imperiled Netanyahu’s dream of completing the vaccination of residents over the age of 16 during March -- the same month he’s seeking re-election while on trial for corruption. It’s also brought to the fore the challenges societies worldwide face in getting resistant populations inoculated.

In addition to Netanyahu’s proposal, Israel is also exploring legislation that would require public-facing employees, like teachers and bus drivers, to be immunized or take frequent Covid-19 tests as a condition to work. There’s also been a discussion of offering financial incentives, and some vaccination sites have offered free food.

Israel is still far from exhausting the benefits of pro-vaccination public relations campaigns, Mordechai Kremnitzer, a constitutional law expert, wrote in an analysis published Monday in the Haaretz newspaper. It also hasn’t offered all the incentives it might to people who have been immunized, he said.

“Having tied his political fate to vaccinations, the suspicion arises that Netanyahu’s proposals on this issue are influenced by personal considerations rather than substantive ones,” Kremnitzer said.

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