Several US Democrat lawmakers call out Israel for not vaccinating Palestinians

Jamaal Bowman says discrepancy ‘another reminder of why the occupation must end,’ Rashida Tlaib claims policy proof that Israel’s a ‘racist, apartheid state’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

A Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem's Beit Hanina neighborhood gets vaccinated against the coronavirus at a Clalit Health Services clinic there, on January 12, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
A Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem's Beit Hanina neighborhood gets vaccinated against the coronavirus at a Clalit Health Services clinic there, on January 12, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

NEW YORK — A growing number of Democrats have been speaking out against Israel for not vaccinating Palestinians in the West Bank.

On Sunday, newly elected New York Congressman Jamaal Bowman joined senior House Rep. Joaquin Castro, freshman Rep. Marie Newman, former vice presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib in voicing his concern over the matter.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “must ensure that both Israelis and Palestinians have access to the Covid vaccine,” tweeted Bowman, who has joined the “squad” group of progressive lawmakers, while also identifying as pro-Israel and anti-BDS.

“This cruelty is another reminder of why the occupation must end,” he added.

Jamaal Bowman speaks during his primary-night party, June 23, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/ Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

Israel is vaccinating its own Arab citizens and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, and says it is not responsible for inoculating the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has said that Israel will consider helping, once it has taken care of its own citizens.

Under the terms of the 1995 Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority is responsible for Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, while both sides are to work together to combat epidemics.

According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel, if it is considered an occupying power, is required to provide vaccines to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The Convention obligates an occupying power to “import the necessary medical supplies, including medicaments, vaccines, and sera, when the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate.”

Israel rejects the claim that it occupies the West Bank, saying the territories it has ruled since 1967 are “disputed,” rather than occupied. It also notes that it has pulled out of Gaza. As such, Jerusalem has never accepted the applicability of that international law statute to the territories.

Castro, who lost a run to chair the high-level House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Haaretz on Sunday that he was “disappointed and concerned” by the matter.

“I commend Israel for leading the world on vaccinating its people, but I’m disappointed and concerned by their government’s exclusion of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation from these vaccination efforts, despite making COVID vaccines available to Israeli settlers in the West Bank,” he added.

“This is a stark reminder of the importance of achieving a two-state solution that respects the rights of the Palestinian people and the security of Israel,” he said.

In early January, Miller released a statement declaring that “The Netanyahu administration has a moral and humanitarian obligation to ensure that both Israelis & Palestinians have access to vaccines.”

Her comments were followed by far more fiery ones made by Tlaib on the Democracy Now channel last week. The Palestinian-American Congresswoman called Israel a “racist state” that was denying vaccinations to Palestinians like her grandmother, who lives in the West Bank.

“They don’t believe that she’s an equal human being that deserves to live, deserves to be able to be protected by this global pandemic,” Tlaib said. “It’s really hard to watch as this apartheid state continues to deny their own neighbors, the people that breathe the same air they breathe, that live in the same communities.”

Tlaib’s comments were blasted by Anti Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, who said her use of the word “apartheid” was “false, hateful and incendiary.” The centrist Democratic Majority for Israel, which seeks to bolster support for the Jewish state among Democrats accused Tlaib of engaging in a “blood libel.”

The remarks were noticed by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who asked US President Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, whether he also thought Israel is a “racist state.”

Blinken said that he did not.

During that same hearing, Kaine offered his own perspective on the matter.

“There’s a vaccination campaign going on right now that in Israel is viewed as one of the leading and most innovative in the world in terms of vaccinating high percentages of people. But virtually no one in Palestine has been vaccinated, and the Israeli health minister says ‘When we are done with our citizens, then we will focus attention on our neighbors,’” Kaine said. The Palestinians are in this odd space where they’re sort of not in one of their own countries or in a country, but they’re not considered citizens, they’re considered neighbors. This is the kind of thing that suggests we really do need to find a path forward.”

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