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Invasion of medical privacy? Knesset passes law to give names of unvaccinated to cities, govt ministries

Massive rally in Tel Aviv planned to protest unprecedented release of names

Shouting match between Knesset members after rejection of a bill that would have delayed budget deadline, Dec. 21, 2020 (Photo: screenshot Knesset channel)

The Knesset passed a controversial law today to give the names of citizens who have not been vaccinated to municipalities, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Welfare.

A Knesset panel approved this controversial legislation, which will permit the Health Ministry to hand out personal medical information about Israeli citizens who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 to local municipalities.

The proposal was passed into law on Wednesday, signaling a departure from the State's medical privacy laws by exposing medical details about citizens’ private lives.

The bill will permit the Health Ministry for a three-month period to transfer personal medical data of residents to local authorities and the Education and Welfare ministries. While the formal purpose is to promote the mass inoculation program, critics warn that authorities could abuse the information, further dividing the country between vaccinated and unvaccinated citizens following the implementation of Israel’s new green passport system.

A massive rally is scheduled to take place tonight in Tel Aviv against the perceived coercion of the vaccine on the population.

In a letter Tuesday, the Israel Association of Public Health Physicians, the largest doctor’s union in the country, told lawmakers this is a slippery slope. While the Israeli doctors’ association stressed the importance of encouraging the COVID-19 vaccine, it simultaneously blasted the law proposal, warning that, “an unprofessional action could possibly cause serious harm” and potentially undermine the public’s trust in the government and the authorities. 

“The medical information centralized by the HMOs is an important resource for promoting the vaccination campaign, in part because it is a tool used by the HMOs to prioritize vaccines according to age and background diseases. However, the information in the possession of the HMOs is information that has been determined to be kept confidential,” the letter stressed.

The doctors’ letter was sent to senior health ministry officials including Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and coronavirus czar Nachman Ash.

Meanwhile, Tehilla Schwartz Altschuler, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, warned that the sensitive personal medical data could be used for political gain in the upcoming March 23 elections.

“The list of people we have not vaccinated is valuable to those who want to know who among us is easy to persuade by conspiracy theories, so it is valuable to those who want to win the election,” Altschuler told Army Radio on Monday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly been in favor of having the Health Ministry to transfer the medical data of Israeli citizens. At a meeting with the coronavirus cabinet, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit avoided the ethical issue but stated that there was no legal obstacle to transferring the medical data.

Increased pressure on unvaccinated individuals is not limited to teachers and other professions conducted in shared offices. Unvaccinated citizens also risk being barred from some houses of worship.

Rabbi Shmuel Slotky, head of the International Association of Synagogues, plans to prevent unvaccinated individuals from entering synagogues.

“The guideline that needs to come from the rabbis, from the synagogue sextons, and from the Torah leaders is that anyone who comes in to pray not according to the guidelines, who is not vaccinated or recovered from coronavirus and enters a synagogue, puts others in danger, and not only does he cause harm and danger to others, but his prayers are completely worthless,” said Slotky.

Rabbi Slotky also urged the Israeli government to find a solution for Israeli youth below the age of 16 who currently cannot receive vaccination against COVID-19.

More than 70% of the eligible population in Israel, those 16 and up, are already vaccinated.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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