Israel is outpacing the world in its rate of vaccination against COVID-19 with some five million Israelis already on their way to a full two doses after just over two months into the campaign.
Government officials praise these high numbers. They see the fast pace of implementation as the key to easing the lockdowns. With a population of 9.2 million, including about two million children 16 and under who are not yet eligible for the vaccine, this puts Israel at some 70 percent of all adults vaccinated.
“This is the first step back to an almost normal life,” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said.
But the end of the third lockdown and the return to “almost normal” came with a price tag — the implementation of a digital vaccination certification that Edelstein and other government officials are calling the green passport.
The green passport gives Israelis access to indoor dining, hotels, sporting events, theaters, gyms, and houses of worship. But on the other hand, those without one cannot enter, including children under 16 who haven’t received the vaccine yet.
As Edelstein put it: “Those who don’t get vaccinated will be left behind.”
In addition to the cultural and entertainment venues mentioned above, college and university students are not allowed back to in-person classes which only recently resumed. Teenagers are barred from drivers’ lessons and matriculation exams.
Is this legal?
The dividing line extends to the workplace. Several businesses have decided that employees who are not vaccinated will not be allowed to enter the company’s offices starting in April. Other employers are waiting for Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to rule on the legality of these policies before they set their own.
“It’s very intense over here in Israel,” said Ilana Rachel Daniel, who is running for the Knesset in the Rappeh party, a single-issue party formed in opposition to lockdowns and forced vaccinations. “They’re making this green passport where half the population cannot get into theaters or all sorts of things unless you have taken the vaccination. They are creating a medical apartheid.”
Musician Itamar Ben Yakir said the green passport is dividing society, friends, and families. Even his band members have told him he cannot play with them until he’s vaccinated.
“That’s not a nice feeling,” he said.
In order to encourage full vaccination of the population, the Knesset passed a law allowing the government to share the names of citizens who haven’t received a COVID vaccine with local authorities in the ministries of education and welfare. The Supreme Court has temporarily halted this law from moving forward.
Meanwhile, health officials have already suggested that Israel begin vaccinating children 12 years old and up before trials on the Pfizer vaccine are even finished.