The Zionist Ideal of Self-Reliance May Be behind Israel’s Vaccination Success

January 6, 2021 | Ira Stoll
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As the week began, the Jewish state was outpacing the UK and U.S. in vaccinations per capita by more than seven to one. To explain this remarkable efficiency, some observers have cited the country’s highly centralized healthcare system, others the decentralization of authority to give vaccines. Perhaps, writes, Ira Stoll, it’s some combination of the two. Stoll also cites some additional reasons:

One factor is that the Jewish religion that shapes Israel’s values places a high value on saving lives. . . . Another factor is that Israel is a democracy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while long-serving, is in what seems like a perpetual battle for political survival. . . . Netanyahu wants re-election and credit for Israel’s voters for doing a good job with the vaccine. Politics and public-health incentives are aligned. The Israeli health minister, Yuli Edelstein, . . . grew up in the Soviet Union, which sent him to the Gulag on phony charges after he applied to migrate to Israel. For someone who has defeated the KGB and the Soviet Communist superpower, tackling the coronavirus may seem less daunting.

Relatedly, Israelis are not shy about putting their own country first. They are generous in aiding other countries in need, from Africa to Haiti. But when one’s own small country has served as a refuge for Jews fleeing brutal persecution and hardship in places such as Europe, Iraq, Ethiopia, and Yemen, one accumulates a certain hard-earned contempt for the perils of waiting for help from the United Nations or the World Health Organization. Israelis realize that their lives depend on their own hustle. That is what Zionism, the idea of a Jewish state, is all about: Jewish self-reliance and national responsibility for Jewish security.

It’s worth mentioning, too, that the Israeli national identity includes Israeli Arabs and Druze. Many Israeli doctors are Arab—to the point where campaigns are underway to get smart Arab high-school students to think about going into the high-tech start-up sector instead of following the well-worn path to medical school.

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