A Green Pass allows us, those vaccinated, to attend concerts, restaurants and sporting events. But Israel’s real-time experiment on life after lockdown leaves many questions unanswered.
TEL AVIV – As the lights dimmed and the music began, an audible wave of excitement swept through the crowd. Someone a few rows above me hooted with joy, like at a wedding in the Middle East.
He had come to the Bloomfield football stadium in Tel Aviv for a concert by Dikla, an Israeli singer of Iraqi and Egyptian origin, which was hailed by the city as a celebration of the “return of culture.” It was the first live performance I had attended in over a year. There were only 500 Israelis vaccinated in a stadium that normally houses almost 30,000 people, but it felt strange and exhilarating to be in a crowd of any size after a year of intermittent lockdowns.
The audience was confined to their socially estranged seats, dancing on the spot and singing through their masks. But the atmosphere was exuberant and confirmed my status as a member of a new privileged class: the fully vaccinated.
We, a group that includes more than half of Israel’s nine million people, are testing a post-pandemic future.
Membership in the class is certified by the Green Pass, a document that you can download and carry on your phone. It includes a kind of GIF, a touching little animation of green people walking, looking like a happy and fully vaccinated family.
Israel’s vaccination program has been remarkably fast and successful.
In recent weeks, new cases Covid-19 rates have dropped dramatically, from a high of 10,000 a day in January to a few hundred by the end of March. The economy has almost completely reopened. Just as Israel became a real-world laboratory for vaccine efficacy, it is now becoming a test case for a post-closure and post-vaccination society.
The Green Pass is your entry ticket.
Green Pass holders can dine inside restaurants, stay in hotels and attend thousands of indoor and outdoor cultural, sporting and religious gatherings. We can go to gyms, swimming pools and the theater. We can get married in wedding halls.
We celebrate Easter and Easter spring break in the company of family and friends.
Local newspapers and television stations are advertising summer getaways for the fully vaccinated in countries ready to receive them, such as Greece, Georgia and the Seychelles.
And when you book a table in a restaurant, they ask you: Do you have a Green Pass? Are you vaccinated?
The system is imperfect and, beyond the Green Pass, in many ways the “system” may be an exaggeration. The application has been spotty. There are troubling questions about those who are not vaccinated and noisy debates unfolding in real time, some landing in court, about the rules and responsibilities of returning to normalcy.
Furthermore, there is no guarantee that this is really the beginning of a post-pandemic future. Any number of factors – delays in vaccine production, the emergence of a new vaccine-resistant variant, and the large number of Israelis who remain unvaccinated – could break the carpet.
The New World has also highlighted inequalities and divisions between societies with more or less access to the vaccine.
Friends and colleagues in the West Bank and Gaza have yet to get vaccinated.
The Palestinian vaccination campaign is just beginning with doses donated largely by other countries amid a bitter debate over Israel’s legal and moral obligations to the health of the people in the territory it occupies. Israel has vaccinated some 100,000 Palestinians working in Israel or in West Bank settlements, but has been criticized for not doing more.
More than 5.2 million Israelis have received at least one injection of the Pfizer vaccine. About four million remain unvaccinated, half of them people under the age of 16 who are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine pending regulatory approvals and further testing in children. Hundreds of thousands of citizens who have recovered from Covid were recently included in Israel’s vaccination program.
And so far a million people have chosen not to get vaccinated, despite Israel’s enviable supply of vaccine doses.
Some oppose the injection on ideological grounds, while others are said to be anxious and waiting to see the effect of the vaccine on others. They have generated little public sympathy and have been criticized by health officials for succumbing to what they describe as fake news spread on social media.
Holdouts present complicated moral and legal issues. Should they have the right to join the world too? Is it ethical to discriminate against them? Or is it fair to force those who have done everything possible to protect themselves by getting vaccinated to share space with people who chose not to?
These questions arose when another artist, Achinoam Nini, a prominent singer-songwriter who goes by the stage name Noa, announced a performance for Green Pass holders only, in a venerable Tel Aviv auditorium.
A small but vocal minority of anti-vaccines and others accused her of collaborating with a discriminatory system and of supporting medical experimentation and coercion.
“He is collaborating with the national team,” wrote one critic, Reut Sorek, borrowing terminology from the Holocaust. “You are cooperating with the medical dictatorship and the abuse of individual rights.”
Ms. Nini responded in a passionate Facebook post that getting vaccinated was for the common good, balancing public health with personal freedom, part of the social contract, and a civic duty, such as stopping at a red light.
“We have a problem here,” he said in an interview. “The world is paralyzed, people have lost their livelihood, their health, their hope. When you put all those things on the scale, come on, inoculate! And if you really don’t want to, stay home. “
To solve the puzzle and serve children under 16, the government has allowed places to offer rapid tests as an alternative to the Green Pass. But many business owners, responsible for ordering and financing the test stations, have found logistics impractical.
However, unlike concerts and football games, going to work is not a luxury for most people.
A teaching assistant at a school for children with special needs in central Israel refused to be vaccinated or, like her employer, the city of Kochav Yair-Tzur Yigal, demanded instead, to submit a negative Covid test weekly.
The school prohibited him from entering work, with the backing of the city council.
Teaching assistant Sigal Avishai appealed to the Tel Aviv Labor Court. She argued that the council’s demands “violated her privacy” and were “without legal basis,” and that the requirement for a weekly test “was intended to pressure her to get vaccinated contrary to her beliefs,” according to court documents.
Last month, the court ruled against him, saying his rights must be balanced with those of teachers, children and their parents to “life, education and health,” citing the special vulnerability of the children in question.
In a country with many doses for everyone, access to the vaccine is not a problem, said Gil Gan-Mor, director of the civil and social rights unit of the Civil Rights Association in Israel.
In Israel, he said, “Anyone who complains can get the vaccine tomorrow morning.”
But in the absence of legislation, employers have been making their own policies. At least one college of higher education relied on Labor Court precedent to require all staff and students to obtain a Green Pass in order to attend classes on campus.
In another case that reached the courts, the Ministry of Health wanted to distribute lists of unvaccinated people to local authorities so that authorities could, for example, identify unvaccinated teachers who have returned to school and try to persuade them to do so. get vaccinated.
Citizen rights groups sued to prevent the ministry from distributing the lists, arguing that it was an invasion of privacy and that medical information could not be adequately safeguarded. The case is before the Supreme Court.
Even where there are rules, the application is spotty.
The concert in Tel Aviv was the first time I was asked to show my Green Pass, and the last. Since then, my family spent a weekend in a B&B in the Galilee, where breakfast was served in a closed room for all guests, including unvaccinated children. A crowded Italian restaurant in the area made it clear that it was not complying with regulations, offering us indoor seating with a 7-year-old boy.
Back in Jerusalem, when I called to make a reservation for two at my favorite restaurant, which served expensive fresh market cuisine in a lively, open kitchen, I was asked if we both had Green Passes. But when we arrived, no one asked to see them.
The tables were as comfortable as ever. The strangers sat shoulder to shoulder at the bar. Our young waitress was unmasked. A diner at the next table asked how safe it was for Covid, then shrugged and continued with their dessert.
Some restaurant owners and managers complained that the pandemic has left them chronically short-staffed and that they cannot be expected to keep an eye on customers as well.
“It’s shameful,” said Eran Avishai, a co-owner of a Jerusalem restaurant. “I have to ask people all kinds of personal questions.” Some clients have made up excuses and notes explaining why they haven’t been vaccinated, he said, and “all kinds of things I don’t want to have to hear about.”
However, some restaurants are strictly observing the regulations, even comparing the Green Pass to customer identity cards. Based on experience, friends are exchanging tips and advice on Facebook regarding the entrance policies of local restaurants and watering holes. And at least one hipster pub in Jerusalem is asking only unknown patrons to show Green Passes and uses the system to keep undesirables away.
I feel a personal sense of lightness and relief as I move through my new vaccinated life. I was even surprised the other day in the supermarket without my mask, which is still required in public places.
We live in splendid isolation. Virus restrictions still make most travel an overwhelming proposition and non-Israelis are generally unable to enter the country. I miss my family abroad. Until the rest of the world catches up, we are a nation living in a bubble.