Don’t Vilify Orthodox Jews Because of the Measles Outbreak

A recent New York Times article on the measles outbreaks that have occurred in scattered parts of the United States was illustrated with a picture of a ḥasidic Jew walking down a street. But while popular perception has given the impression that, at least in the New York metropolitan area, ultra-Orthodox Jews who refuse to vaccinate their children are the cause of the epidemic, the truth is somewhat different, as Daniel Berman and Awi Federgruen write:

In this year’s U.S. measles outbreak, parts of Brooklyn and Rockland County have experienced two-thirds of the reported 704 infections. The media generally blame an alleged low vaccination rate in these areas, each with a large percentage of ultra-Orthodox Jews. . . . However, the New York State Health Department reports the average vaccination rate for measles among the nearly 200 Jewish K-12 schools in Brooklyn—mainly in [in the ḥasidic enclaves of] Borough Park and Williamsburg—is 96 percent, six percentage points higher than the statewide average among private schools. In contrast, six other New York counties have a vaccination rate below 50 percent.

Moreover, the measles vaccination rate among Jewish school-age children is above the assumed 95-percent threshold required for “herd immunity,” i.e., protection of the community from sustained outbreaks.

What, then, explains the outbreak? Regardless of the vaccination rate, some communities have characteristics that enhance and sustain epidemics. Population density and a community’s social-mixing patterns are two critical determinants of whether an outbreak dies out or remains sustained. Orthodox Jewish communities are densely populated. Families have many children and interact frequently. . . . [I]n a densely populated and highly interactive community, the average infected individual transmits measles to 24 others, and then 99 percent of the community must be vaccinated in order to ensure herd immunity. . . .

It is time to stop vilifying the Orthodox Jewish community when the data show their vaccination rates are as high as any. Continuing to blame this segment of the Jewish community—especially in the news media—is not only wrong. It actually jeopardizes the cooperation that is necessary to stem the outbreak. . . .

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Read more at New York Daily News

More about: Brooklyn, Medicine, New York Times, Ultra-Orthodox


What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy