The former chief scientist of Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry was named Thursday as the country’s highest serving official at the World Health Organization, a posting celebrated by the government as a major achievement.
Sinaia Netanyahu, who served as the Environmental Protection Ministry’s chief scientist from 2011 to the end of 2017, will become the head of the Program for Environmental and Health Impacts at the WHO’s Europe office, according to an announcement by the Foreign Ministry
“For the last several years, the Foreign Ministry has been involved in efforts to incorporate Israelis into various positions at the UN and UN agencies. The choice of Dr. Netanyahu to the post is great news in this regard and an important milestone,” a ministry statement read.
Netanyahu, who has worked for decades as an environmental and economic expert in various capacities, said she hopes she can help advance programs that “create an environment to support reducing health inequality in regards to environmental exposure.”
Netanyahu, who has also blogged for The Times of Israel, was married to computer scientist Nathan Netanyahu, a first cousin of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Since leaving the Environmental Protection Ministry in 2017, she has become an outspoken critic of government environmental policy, regularly warning of damage to human life, welfare, biodiversity and the ecological services.
The World Health Organization, based in Geneva, Switzerland, is the agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health and global cooperation of health crises.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration formally notified the United Nations last month of its withdrawal from the WHO, although the pullout will not take effect until next year, meaning it could be rescinded under a new administration or if circumstances change.
The withdrawal notification made good on US President Donald Trump’s vow in late May to terminate US participation in the WHO, which he has harshly criticized for its response to the coronavirus outbreak and accused of bowing to Chinese influence. The US, which is the agency’s largest donor, provided it with more than $400 million per year.
Critics have accused Trump of looking for a scapegoat for the dire situation in the United States, which is leading in global cases and deaths from the virus. Trump had dismissed the virus threat for much of the time leading up to the pandemic’s exploding throughout the country.
WHO officials rejected claims that the organization had underestimated the severity of the outbreak, pointing to increasingly urgent warnings about the situation, starting in early January.