One of the country’s most prominent anti-vaccine advocates, who promoted conspiracy theories regarding the coronavirus, died at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon on Sunday of COVID-19.
Anyone hoping that 57-year-old Hai Shaulian's death would prompt his supporters to rush and get vaccinated will be disappointed. Based on his followers' reactions on social media, Shaulian’s death does not appear to have changed their views.
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On Saturday, Shaulian posted an update for his followers on Facebook about his deteriorating condition, calling on them to continue to stand up to the medical establishment.
“I am in very serious condition. I’m not capable of speaking or responding to people. I have no oxygen,” he wrote. “I believe that I’ll get through this, God willing. I expect that it will take two weeks, maybe three. Keep on fighting.”
Claiming that the government is forcing its vaccine campaign onto the public, he called on his followers "not to give up." In another post he provided an alternative explanation for his illness, alleging that police officers had poisoned him when he was arrested at a protest.
“I am telling you that this is an attempt to assassinate me, and if something happens to me – know that this is precisely the reality,” he said in a video clip from his hospital bed.
Following his death, supporters of Shaulian have claimed that he was murdered by government authorities and that the establishment sought to silence Shaulian so that he would not disclose the truth about what they claim is a fictitious pandemic and a dangerous vaccine.
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“After investigating the matter, it turns out that this is the work of the Shin Bet [security agency] in cooperation with the Israel Police and officials at Wolfson hospital. Bennett – Hai’s blood is on your hands, and you will also be put on trial over him,” one follower wrote in reference to Prime Minster Naftali Bennett.
“Hai Shaulian, a fighter for justice and truth, a leader in resisting crime, was murdered in cold blood over freedom of expression and the truth,” wrote another.
But opponents of Shaulian’s anti-vaccine campaign called on his supporters to come to their senses following his death. “I prayed that he would quickly recover, that he would survive the coronavirus,” said Dr. Lior Ungar of the Sheba Medical Center, who has been battling anti-vaxxers for years. Ungar hoped that Shualian "would greatly repent and bring about redemption," educating others about the real dangers of the virus after having suffered the illness.
In anthropology, the term "cognitive dissonance" describes a situation in which a group’s convictions clash with reality. The concept was first investigated by Leon Festinger, an American social psychologist who in the 1950s observed the followers of a cult leader who had prophesied that the world would come to an end on a specific date, but, of course, were wrong.
In his research, Festiger showed that for the most part, people maintain their belief even after it is disproven by reality. In the case of the cult, after the world continued to exist, some of the less fervent believers dropped out, but a hard-core group of followers refused to acknowledge the truth, maintained their beliefs and even attracted new members.