Monday, September 20, 2021

There are major differences between the American and the Israeli right. Never has this been more apparent to this author than during the pandemic. The vast majority of my acquaintances on the Israeli right support vaccination and even banning the non-vaccinated from events and shops. We see those who refuse vaccination and try to sneak into shul, for example, as endangering our lives. But tune into conservative American talk shows, and it is easy to see that the American right sees vaccinations and “passports” as an infringement of their civil liberties, and sometimes something even more nefarious.

It is not the only difference between the Israeli and American conservative right. One of the more obvious disparities between the two is seen in the way the American and Israeli view the two-state solution. A 2016 Pew report revealed that 43 percent of American Jews who identify as conservatives say that “A peaceful two-state solution is possible, compared with 70% of those who say they are liberal – a gap of 27 percentage points. Among Israeli Jews, 29% of those on the political right say a peaceful two-state solution is possible, compared with 86% on the left – a 57-point gulf.”

One might also suggest that our issues are different. In Israel, our health care system is socialist and it works. We offer all sorts of benefits to encourage immigration (albeit JEWISH immigration/Aliyah). On the Israeli right, among the main issues—not in any particular order—are sovereignty; settlement; access and freedom of worship at our holy sites; the preservation of Jewish identity and observance; security; and at least as far as this author is concerned: a fierce and stubborn desire to spurn the West on any matters on which we differ in relation to Israeli sovereignty and security.

With the arrival of the horrible, no-good pandemic, another difference between the American and the Israeli right became apparent. Israelis, on the right and on the left, trust the medical establishment, even when that medical establishment can only wager a guess as to the right decisions to take in battling COVID-19. In fact, while there are pockets of conspiracy theorists on both sides of the equation, most of us understand that the danger of coronavirus is very real, and we are willing to take risks and use heretofore unknown vaccines in an effort to protect the most vulnerable sectors of our population.

I can’t quote statistics on what I freely admit are observed phenomena. But thus far, over 3 million Israelis have received their third booster shot, with the FDA still unwilling to approve the third booster across the board but only for those over 65 or at high risk. The effort to administer that third jab, here in Israel, for all sectors, continues unabated.

Not long after the American presidential election, as I was leaving a doctor’s office, we struck up a conversation about the pandemic. Believing her to have similar political views, I ventured to say that it was Trump’s cavalier attitude to COVID-19 that lost him the election. How is it, I asked, that Israel managed to get all those Pfizer vaccines when in America, where those vaccines were produced, Americans wanting to vaccinate, couldn’t get vaccinated for love or money. Appointments were impossible to get, and my first cousin had to travel from Pennsylvania to Ohio in order to be vaccinated (twice).   

My doctor agreed, venturing the fact that her mother in New York was having a terrible time trying to secure an appointment to be vaccinated. So, I reiterated, in my opinion, that’s how Trump lost the election. At which point my doctor said, “And what a shame! He was good for Israel, and now look what we’ve got.”

We both shook our heads, commiserating. In our opinion, both of us on the Israeli right, it was the stubborn insistence on pooh-poohing COVID and vaccination that lost the election for the Conservatives. More’s the pity.

My family doctor, Dr. Chaim Judelman, in a thread on social media, at one point alluded to the fact that in America, Conservatives differed from us on the subject of vaccinations. I agreed. I had seen it myself, in online interactions, in listening to talk shows and American Conservative pundits. It was disturbing to me, seeming contrary to medical science, and dare I say it: selfish.

That thread occurred some months ago. Then yesterday, my husband alerted me to the fact that Dr. Judelman had contracted and recovered from COVID-19 though we are both well aware of his positive stance on vaccination. Dov told me to go see Dr. Judelman’s latest post on Facebook. It was long, said Dov, with many interesting points.

I received permission from Dr. Judelman to share his post here in full:

I want to quote here one point in this thoughtful commentary on the Israeli vaccination program that I found most striking and persuasive:
“Other than tweaking or finding a better vaccine that provides a longer lasting more diffuse immunity, it seems to me that currently the best immunity is a combination of vaccine and viral exposure. People get vaccinated and then recover from COVID and these who are recovered should get vaccinated. Hopefully a better tweaked vaccine will be available soon.”

It is only natural that Dr. Judelman’s post generated a lot of discussion. Which is why he debated sharing his experience and his thoughts in the first place. In my experience, he is a mensch who hates dissension. Also, he didn’t really want to get into it with the anti-vaxxers. But he braved the waters anyway, believing he had something important to say to the world, irrespective of politics. And I really liked this response Dr. Judelman made to a comment from a friend of his in Pittsburgh, no doubt on the right, and obviously on the other side of the vaccine equation (emphasis added):

“I have seen many young patients from the USA and here who had cardiac, pulmonary, stroke, embolic and other long term post-COVID problems despite "effective" treatments. I have a 25 year old who had encephalitis -a young family devastated and some patients died. YET - I did not vaccinate myself because I was fearful of COVID. I did not vaccinate my children because I was fearful of their risk - The absolute risk is low. I did it because in Israel, we are a family and we take daily personal risks to protect others.

In a nutshell, this is the difference between the American and the Israeli right, from my purview. Freedom of choice, individual liberties is what matters most on the American right. In Israel, on the other hand, in spite of our vigorous political and religious debate, we live in a world that hates us and tries to eradicate us as a nation and as a people. Perhaps it is this existential threat that has turned us into a family. And there isn’t anything we wouldn’t do for each other.

Including vaccination.

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