The Health Ministry on Sunday warned the public against the exhortations of anti-vaccination Rabbi Yuval Hacohen Asherov, who has been accused of fueling fears about the shots, during a general slowdown in the country’s mass inoculation program.
The rabbi is “misleading and irresponsibly endangering his listeners,” the ministry said in a statement.
It noted that Asherov “does not hold a license for medical practice or any other health profession… His claims are dangerous and misleading to the public and private individuals.”
Asherov, who advises numerous Israeli celebrities, has released videos falsely claiming that the vaccines cause infertility and damage to the immune system, and can even be fatal.
“There are fears that the coronavirus vaccine can be fatal, causes infertility… and severe allergies that can be fatal,” he said in one clip. “Scientists are saying this. It’s not me who’s saying this.”
Many of his videos have been viewed 100,000-200,000 times.
There is no evidence to support Asherov’s claims, which have been debunked by health experts.
Earlier Sunday a group of influential rabbis issued a statement urging the public to be vaccinated, declaring it a religious public duty.
Reluctance to get the shots has been shown by younger Israelis, but also among those who are at risk, including teachers.
On Saturday, the head of the Yisrael Beytenu party, MK Avigdor Liberman, drew criticism after he defended a party lawmaker who said that he would not be getting the shots.
Liberman falsely claimed that “we do not know anything about the vaccine,” and declared that he opposed compelling people to get vaccinated.
His comments drew instant rebuke from health officials, who warned that encouraging public skepticism of the vaccine could cost lives.
The Health Ministry has reportedly set up a special team to counter fake news about the coronavirus vaccines on social media.
Last week, Facebook announced that it had removed a major Israeli group promoting conspiracy theories about the vaccines that in recent weeks had urged its thousands of members to schedule appointments to inoculate and then to cancel them at the last minute, forcing HMOs to throw out unused doses.
Facebook said that the group violated its community standards regarding fake news.
The removal of the group from the social media platform came after the Health Ministry reportedly asked Facebook to take down the posts of anti-vaxxers bragging about their exploits. The social media giant has pledged to keep anti-vaxxers and those spreading fake vaccination information off its platform.
Days later, the social media giant deleted another group associated with popular Israeli rabbi Amnon Yitzhak that peddled fake news about the pandemic and the immunizations.
The group, which had over 12,000 members, featured false information about the virus and the vaccines’ efficacy and safety, alongside conspiracy videos and efforts to thwart the country’s vaccination drive.
The Health Ministry is reportedly planning to clamp down on Israelis who refuse to vaccinate against the coronavirus and to impose sanctions on businesses that accept unvaccinated customers.
Israel is in its sixth week of a national lockdown aimed at curbing virus infections and the government, which hopes to have inoculated all citizens over the age of 16 by the end of March, has made the success of the immunization drive a key element of its lockdown exit strategy.