Opinion |

Israel’s Anti-vaxxers Have Completely Lost It

Many Israeli anti-vaxxers are former protesters against former prime minister Netanyahu who have merely replaced the anti-Bibi protest with the anti-vaccine protest

Uri Misgav
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A woman at a Tel Aviv rally protesting government pandemic restrictions. Her sign in a mix of Hebrew and English reads: 'The vaccine opens doors to hell.'
A woman at a Tel Aviv rally protesting government pandemic restrictions, Aug. 14, 2021. Her sign in a mix of Hebrew and English reads: 'The vaccine opens doors to hell.'Credit: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP
Uri Misgav

Israeli anti-vaccination activists cheered when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration took a cautious stance regarding the coronavirus booster shot. To some of them, it was a real shot in the arm, sending their morale and their rhetoric soaring to new heights, all the while overlooking an inherent contradiction.

Until then, they saw the FDA as a part of the conglomerate of the Great Satan (Pfizer Inc.) and the Little Satan (Prime Minister Naftali Bennett) and were wholly unimpressed by the FDA’s previous authorizations and approvals of the vaccine.

It’s hard to gauge the true size and influence of this energetic and vocal group. Although there are still approximately 1 million vaccine-eligible people in Israel who remain unvaccinated, most of them are either ultra-Orthodox Jews or Arab citizens. The anti-vaccine protesters, in contrast, constitute an ideological group that arose in a secular-Jewish milieu, and it is doubtful that such a group holds much sway among Haredim and Arabs.

It certainly makes a lot of noise on Facebook and WhatsApp, and occasionally gains attention and support from media figures and internet influencers, so it presumably has a certain persuasive potential among young people, an age cohort that is generally more drawn to conspiracies and extremist positions and harbors more skepticism toward the establishment and the adult world. But the real damage being done by this group lies not in the medical sphere but rather in the intellectual and political spheres.

I am not an epidemiologist, and this is not an article about vaccines. It is about the anti-vaccine protest. It is being written with sorrow and pain. I have friends in this group. Men and women with whom I stood side by side on the front lines of the Balfour protests. They were full participants in, and often leaders of, one of the most impressive and effective resistance movements this country has ever seen. They each paid a personal price, and not just in time and money.

Many were arrested or subjected to physical violence and verbal abuse by police and their fellow citizens. Yet now it’s fairly clear that many of them, especially from the hard core and inner circles, have merely replaced the anti-Bibi protest with the anti-vaccine protest. It may not be nice to admit this, but the situation is extremely maddening.

These are folks who didn’t take a break for even one day. After such a long and intensive struggle, it’s a good idea to take some time to reflect, to study the emerging new reality, to rest a little and recharge the ideological batteries. The anti-vaccine protesters chose to fill the sudden void in their lives by continuing to fight at the same intensity.

As soon as Netanyahu was ousted and the “change government” was formed, they lost no time creating a photomontage of Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and began screaming about Bennett’s supposed fascism. And the rhetoric has only escalated since then.

Members of the anti-vaccine protest call Israel the “Fourth Reich” and themselves the “Fourth Israel.” Hitler and Nazi Germany are constantly invoked. Anyone who qualifies for a Green Pass is “injected” and anyone who has been inoculated has been “eliminated” by the “genetic vaccine.” Public figures and journalists who support the government’s vaccination policy are subjected to fierce coordinated attacks and harangues.

At first I figured, or perhaps was merely trying to convince myself, that this was just an esoteric and vocal fringe movement. I am no longer so sure of that, and anyway the Israeli left has already shrunk to the point where it cannot afford to lose even the fringes, or to become mired in internal battles and civil war.

This is perhaps where the true tragedy lies: Whereas in the rest of the world, vaccine opposition is almost exclusively the domain of the populist Trumpist right, in Israel the anti-vaccine protest is squarely situated on the left. This is deeply mortifying: Yes, a true liberal left is supposed to question authority and to safeguard individual rights, but it is also supposed to sanctify progress and science and shun loony conspiracy theories. I personally know a nurse (!) who vehemently insists that a chip that emits electromagnetic radiation has been implanted in every Israeli who has gotten the jab.

Saddest of all: The anti-vaccine protest is retroactively befouling the Balfour protest and playing into the hands of those who vilified its participants as crazy anarchists. My friends, you are losing it. The Green Pass cannot be compared to the Nuremberg Laws and PCR tests are not comparable to the gas chambers. You’ve gone too far. Enough.

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