Opinion |

In Israel, the Coronavirus Infringes on Human Rights

Aeyal Gross
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Israelis protest the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis in Tel Aviv.
Israelis protest the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis in Tel Aviv. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Aeyal Gross

The public debate surrounding the vaccines ostensibly pits protection of human rights versus the public interest in protecting general health, or the particular interest of protecting the right to health for those who could be endangered by a vaccine refuser. The debate over the “Green Passport” is being conducted as a discussion that asks whether restrictions on such activities as entry to cultural events, may be upheld in light of the constitutional test of infringement of human rights: Do they serve a worthy purpose? Are they proportionate? A similar discussion is happening regarding the status of employees who refuse to get vaccinated.

This is certainly an important discussion, but its limitations bear pointing out as well: Anyone disturbed by the infringement of human rights of people refusing to be vaccinated should consider not only the general interest of public health or the right to health of people whom the non-vaccinated could endanger. Absent from this equation is the infringement of human rights that could be caused if herd immunity is not achieved if not enough people are vaccinated.

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In the name of combatting the virus, many human rights are being infringed; lockdowns and restrictions on gatherings infringe upon people’s freedom of movement, and the right to work and earn a living with dignity, and consequently, other rights such as the right to food security, the right to family life, freedom of religion and sometimes the freedom to demonstrate and the right to education. One could argue about the justification for each measures taken in response to the pandemic and try to determine how justified they are, but it is obviously very difficult to combat the pandemic without perpetrating violating human rights. The vaccine appears to be the surest way to emerge from the pandemic.

Until widespread immunization is achieved, numerous human rights are likely to continue to be infringed. It is certainly important to ensure that the rights of people who refuse the vaccine are not infringed upon unjustifiably, and certainly, sweeping proposals such as banning these people from workplaces, are totally unacceptable. But what’s missing from the discussion is that the Green Passport issue is causing such an uproar as if it were a mortal blow to human rights – some go so far as to liken it to concentration camp selections, or the ghetto -- while the numerous ways that human rights are being harmed for the sake of combating the virus, infringements that widespread vaccination could bring to an end, are ignored.

There have been many reports about serious harm being done to Israelis stuck abroad as they are barred from returning to Israel because a travel ban imposed as part of the coronavirus regulations is very sweeping and the exceptions committees doesn’t function properly.

This is an example of unjustified infringement of a constitutional right, when alternatives such as testing and quarantine for people returning from abroad do exist. For this reason, the ban amounts to disproportionate infringement. But even the more proportionate way to deal with the issue – requiring coronavirus testing and quarantine for returning travelers -- which can be justified, entails an infringement of human rights.

Quarantine also infringes on people’s freedom of movement and choice and, like the vaccine, the requirement to be tested involves a medical procedure without free consent. Infringements of human rights will exist for as long as the pandemic lasts. Even if the schools are managed as well as can be, we will still not achieve an ideal realization of the right to education.

Thus, a holistic view of health and human rights in the context of the coronavirus pandemic requires us to examine all the measures being taken to promote immunization not only through the important but limited perspective of infringement of the rights of vaccination-refusers. When the public interest of promoting vaccination is considered, we must remember that widespread vaccination is necessary to reduce the infringement of human rights that will last until the pandemic ends.

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