The Gaza Strip is run by Hamas, an Islamist terrorist organization that aims to destroy Israel. Much of the West Bank is overseen by the Palestinian Authority, a leadership so opposed to normalized relations with Israel that it refused to accept two shipments of medical aid from the UAE last year to help battle the coronavirus pandemic because they had been flown into Ben Gurion Airport.
So why on earth should Israel help the Palestinian residents of those territories with vaccination against COVID-19, especially when it is argued that the PA accepted legal responsibility for health services under the Oslo accords?
Why? Because it is both the decent thing to do and clearly in Israel’s self-interest.
Decent, because if people in our immediate neighborhood are at life-threatening risk of viral contagion, and we can help them, we should. Would they do the same for us? Hamas likely wouldn’t. So be it. Will they become any less hostile to us if we help out? Probably not. Again, so be it.
Self-interest, because COVID-19 knows no borders, and contagion crosses easily from the West Bank to Israel and vice versa. This might be less so with Gaza, where there is very little movement of people from one side to the other, but if Ramallah doesn’t truly beat COVID, it’s hard to imagine that Jerusalem will either.
Israel is already making vaccination available to the Palestinians of East Jerusalem (most of whom are Israeli residents without Israeli citizenship), with whom our lives are intertwined. Their lives, in turn, are often deeply tied to those of relatives, friends and colleagues in the West Bank. Many West Bank Palestinians, in turn, interact with Israelis — either in Israel or around the settlements. In short, when Palestinians sneeze, Israelis are routinely likely to catch a cold, and vice versa. And when Palestinians have COVID-19, Israelis are likely to get infected, and vice versa, with awful consequences.
Negotiating effectively, paying above the odds, marketing Israel as a global test case for the vaccination rollout, and managing to vaccinate the population on a prioritized basis thanks to its enormously efficient HMOs, Israel is currently the world leader in vaccinations per capita; more than a quarter of the populace has had the first of its two Pfizer shots. The Palestinians are far behind, with a first major shipment of vaccines, Russia’s Sputnik V, only expected by mid-February.
But as far as we can tell, Israel to date has not had an oversupply of vaccine doses; indeed, it had to slow the vaccination drive earlier this month, before negotiating expedited shipments. The government’s priority is rightly to take care of our own. It gave 100 doses to the PA as a “humanitarian gesture,” but reportedly turned down a request for up to 10,000 doses for PA healthcare workers because of insufficient supplies.
If and when that changes, if Israel can help the Palestinians with vaccine doses, and help too with the crucial logistics of vaccination, it should offer to do so. Whether the Palestinians wish to “normalize” sufficiently to accept such assistance, well, that’s a matter for them.
Businessman and entrepreneur Michael A. Leven is leading a campaign to encourage fellow philanthropists to pledge at least 50% of the charitable giving in their estate plans to Jewish and Israel-related causes.
The so-called “Jewish Future Pledge,” based upon the “Giving Pledge” led by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates, is designed to ensure that core components of Jewish life — Jewish organizations, religious institutions and causes related to Israel — are sustained, precisely when there is no guarantee that future generations will produce Jewish-focused philanthropy to match the levels of the current era.
In interviews publicizing this effort, the Florida-based Leven, former president and chief operating officer of the Las Vegas Sands Corp, has said that the idea for the campaign was sparked by things I said in a lecture he attended in Aspen, Colorado, about concerns over the future of Jewish-directed philanthropy.
“You’ve cost me a lot of time, money and energy,” Leven joked on Monday, when he told me more about this over Zoom.
Leven, who stresses that the campaign is nonpartisan, with no prescribed list of causes, says “it hasn’t been easy: it’s been slower than I thought and more costly than I thought.” But the effort is gathering pace, and he assesses that billions of dollars have now been pledged. The first 600-plus pledgers include Charles Bronfman, Bernie Marcus, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. Partnerships have been established to date with 12 Jewish federations in North America, and other partnerships are being negotiated, including with the JNF.
I asked Leven a quasi-heretical question, about the assumption underpinning the effort: Why is it so important the Jewish people continue to survive and thrive? “Well, I’m not a rabbi,” he began, elaborating that he grew up in a Modern Orthodox home and is “very secular,” and then homing in on the vastly disproportionate Jewish contribution to the well-being of humankind. The Jews are a “tiny” population worldwide, who have made an outsized contribution “to society as a whole,” he said, citing industry, governance, science, technology and more. As for Israel, he marveled at what our “speck” of a country has achieved in its brief modern lifespan.
We Jews, he acknowledged, “have all of our problems; we’re human beings, of course. But in the end, we do so much from so little…”
“I just think the world has been a better place because we have been here,” he concluded, “And I still think we have a chance to make that contribution… We’re good for civilization.”
Leven said he is careful to mention my role in sparking the “Jewish Future Pledge” idea, “because I don’t like to take credit for something that wasn’t me.”
I don’t have my notes from that Aspen talk I gave and Leven attended, but I have spoken often in lectures about concerns regarding the future of Jewish philanthropy, especially as the current older generation, so strongly identified with Jewish causes and with Israel, fades away.
If something I said sparked a growing campaign that will help safeguard integral elements of Jewish life, I’m privileged. But the real credit, as always, goes to the energized trailblazers who translate words into action.
** This Editor’s Note was originally sent out Wednesday in ToI’s weekly update email to members of the Times of Israel Community. To receive these Editor’s Notes as they’re released, join the ToI Community here.
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