Israel's Coronavirus Czar Blasted for 'Offensive' Remark on Arabs

Prof. Ronni Gamzu uses word typically used to describe terror attack in accusing Israeli Arabs of 'nearly' causing large spike in infection

Jack Khoury
Aaron Rabinowitz
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Israel's coronavirus czar Prof. Roni Gamzu at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, August 2020.
Israel's coronavirus czar Prof. Roni Gamzu at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, August 2020. Credit: Tal Shahar
Jack Khoury
Aaron Rabinowitz

Prof. Ronni Gamzu, who is leading Israel's battle against the coronavirus, came under fire on Sunday for using a term usually referring to terror attacks to discuss infection among the country's Arabs. 

In an interview with Ynet news website, Gamzu said that "In recent weeks, the Arab community nearly caused an attack of hundreds of cases after Eid al-Adha, so I'm not pleased." The particular word chosen by Gamzu is generally used to refer to a terror attack, specifically. 

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Gamzu asserted that the Arab community had displayed "complacency" and "indifference", citing increased infection rates following celebrations of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

Gamzu said that the infection rate in the Arab community had risen following the holiday: "They thought that the coronavirus can't hurt them, but it really hit them like a mass attack." 

People wearing masks in Jerusalem, August 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Gamzu called on Arab leaders to act on the matter. "You are powerful, I know you," he said. "You'll do it a lot better than the government, don't wait [for them]." He added that he wants "more responsibility, both in the ultra-Orthodox as well as in the Arab communities."

Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties, said that "it is a shame that at a time when Arab doctors are on the front lines of the battle against the pandemic, the coronavirus czar is coming out with statements that hurt an entire community. Instead of offensive statements like those, I invite him to work together to defeat the disease."

On Wednesday, Gamzu said that the infection rate in Jerusalem could require imposing a full lockdown on the city.

The most worrisome data deals with the rate of positive tests in East Jerusalem, which is much higher than the national rate. 

Over the past two weeks, some 20,000 people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus around the country, including 2,700 in communities that are mostly Arab. There were also 240 new cases diagnosed in 16 Bedouin communities during the past two weeks, as well as 540 new cases in 13 Druze communities.