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'I'm an honest person. I didn't set up the meeting,' he says

Israel’s millionth vaccinee, hailed by Netanyahu, served 14 years in jail

State radio retracts, apologizes for report that Muhammad Abd al-Wahhab Jabarin was convicted of murder 40 years ago; ToI also apologizes for citing false claim

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) with Muhammad Abd al-Wahhab Jabarin, the millionth Israeli to get a COVID-19 vaccine, and medical staff in Umm al-Fahm, January 1, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) with Muhammad Abd al-Wahhab Jabarin, the millionth Israeli to get a COVID-19 vaccine, and medical staff in Umm al-Fahm, January 1, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The man highlighted as the millionth Israeli to receive the coronavirus vaccine, who was given his inoculation last week with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu standing alongside, spent 14 years in jail before being released in 1992.

Muhammad Abd al-Wahhab Jabarin, 66, who got his shot on Friday as Netanyahu was visiting a vaccination center in the Arab Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm, served time for robbery and weapons charges.

Israel’s Kan state broadcaster initially reported Sunday that Jabarin had been jailed for murder, and later said he had served time for manslaughter — as reported in earlier versions of this article. On Monday, Kan retracted (Hebrew link) its reports, saying they were erroneous. It apologized for harm caused by the incorrect reports; The Times of Israel also apologizes for citing them in earlier versions of this article.

Jabarin later Sunday acknowledged the lengthy jail term, but denied the reports of more serious crimes. “It’s a lie that I did time for murder. I was jailed for robbery, and for [charges related to] weapons,” he told Kan.

Standing next to Jabarin on Friday, Netanyahu called reaching the milestone a moment of “great excitement.”

“We are breaking all of the records. We brought millions of vaccines to the State of Israel,” he said. “We are ahead of the entire world… with our excellent HMOs.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, center with Muhammad Abd al-Wahhab Jabarin, the millionth Israeli to get a COVID-19 vaccine, in Umm al-Fahm, January 1, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Local officials in Umm al-Fahm told Kan they were shocked to see Jabarin appearing alongside the prime minister and assumed his media team had no idea of Jabarin’s past.

Responding to the news, the Prime Minister’s Office told The Times of Israel it “had no further details,” on the identity of the millionth vaccine recipient, who was apparently picked at random on the scene.

The Shin Bet security agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the security arrangements at the vaccination center.

Speaking to Radio 103 FM following the Kan publication, Jabarin confirmed aspects of his criminal past and said he only found out about the honor of being the millionth Israeli to receive the vaccine when arriving to receive it.

“The director of the health clinic told me that you going to be the millionth vaccinated person. I thought he was telling me that I had won a million! And then he told me that Netanyahu would come now. Suddenly the prime minister greets me, it was exciting,” Jabarin said.

He nonetheless said he was “offended” at the publication of his past conviction.

“The truth is that I was offended. Why hurt me because of Netanyahu?
I’m an honest person. That was over 30 years ago,” he said. ” I didn’t set up the meeting!”

He told Kan on Sunday: “I paid my debt to society, and put all that behind me. I have children and grandchildren… I was asked to come and get vaccinated, and I came to get vaccinated. I am an older man, and unwell. If people want to take on Netanyahu, they shouldn’t do it via me.”

Several Arab lawmakers lashed Netanyahu over the visit to Umm al-Fahm, and MK Ahmad Tibi of the Joint List alliance of Arab majority parties claimed Netanyahu had ejected the clinic’s staff from the facility ahead of his visit.

Tibi posted a photo on Twitter of a group standing in a street, some of whom appeared to be medical workers, and wrote, “Medical staff, mostly nurses, were removed from the clinic in Umm al-Fahm two hours before the arrival of Prime Minister Netanyahu and waited outside.”

The apparent misstep comes on the back of criticism of Netanyahu for his appearances last week in two Arab Israeli towns and his efforts to reach Arab Israeli voters ahead of the March election, claiming to be working on a plan to tackle violent crime in Arab Israeli communities.

“I’ll sit tomorrow with [Public Security] Minister Ohana to bring [about] a plan against crime and violence in Arab society,” Netanyahu was reported saying Saturday, while laying out his plan to reach Arab Israeli voters.

Arab Israelis have long complained of a tide of violent crime in their communities — 2020 saw 96 homicides in the Arab population, representing a 50 percent jump in the murder rate among Arab Israelis in only four years.

Arab parliamentarians and civil society organizations have repeatedly accused Israeli authorities of failing to stem the tide of violence in their communities.

Netanyahu’s push for Arab votes in the coming election, despite past tensions with the community surrounding previous elections, including rhetoric seen by many as racist.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits a vaccination center in Tira on December 31, 2020 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Israel’s vaccination campaign is in full swing, and it has so far greatly outpaced other countries per capita with 11.55% of the population inoculated, according to statistics from the Our World in Data website operated by Oxford University.

Arabs make up around 20 percent of Israel’s population and have been relatively slow to embrace the vaccination campaign, prompting Netanyahu to launch a series of visits to Arab localities, his first in years, in what is also seen by many as an attempt to score political points ahead of the March elections.

Netanyahu has said Israel is aiming for some 2.25 million Israelis out of a population of 9.3 million to be vaccinated by the end of January.

Tal Schneider contributed to this report.

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