Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer confirmed Thursday that a planned visit to Israel next week by its CEO, Albert Bourla, had been postponed, following criticism that the trip could influence Israel’s election later this month.
Bourla was set to arrive in Israel on March 8, just 15 days before the March 23 election. His trip is now expected to be delayed to late spring, Channel 12 reported.
The trip was set to coincide with the completion of the delivery of 10 million Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doses to Israel, and would have reportedly included discussions on the possibility of Pfizer building a vaccination production facility in Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has often touted his personal rapport with Bourla, the son of Holocaust survivors, has made Israel’s vaccination success the centerpiece of his campaign for the upcoming election.
Charging that the visit would be used by the prime minister for his own benefit in the election, the Achrayut Leumit watchdog group urged Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit earlier this week to prevent it from taking place.
The group said that the visit could be considered “prohibited election propaganda” due to its use of Health Ministry resources.
On Thursday, Netanyahu hosted both Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen as the countries discussed joint work to produce second-generation vaccines against the coronavirus.
Netanyahu took the two European leaders to a gym in Modiin to show off Israel’s Green Pass, which now allows fully vaccinated or recovered individuals to take part in various activities including going to the gym.
“In some four-five weeks we’ll finish vaccinating all of the over-50s,” Netanyahu said. “In eight weeks we’ll finish vaccinating everyone in Israel over 16, except for those people who refuse to vaccinate under any circumstances.”
However, Netanyahu added it is likely that “we will need to continue wearing masks for a while” due to newer variants of the virus. “It’s better to be careful,” he said. “It’s a small price to pay.”
The Health Ministry said Thursday that 4,859,948 Israelis had received a first vaccine dose, of whom 3,576,379 have also received a second.
The election — the fourth in two years — was called after the power-sharing government of Likud and Blue and White failed to agree on a budget by a December 23 deadline. The election, like the previous three votes, is largely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu’s rule amid his ongoing trial on corruption charges, as well as his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.