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Blame Game in Full Throttle: Why WHO's Listing of Israel as 'European' Raises No Red Flags

© AP Photo / Anja NiedringhausWorld Health Organization logo on its headquarters in Geneva
World Health Organization logo on its headquarters in Geneva - Sputnik International
Donald Trump's criticism of the WHO has turned all eyes on the entity's alleged political biases. However, it appears the media spread it on thick when they lambasted the WHO for including Israel in the list of European nations in its COVID-19 situation reports. WHO and Israeli researchers have explained why and what's behind the controversy.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has come under fire over listing Israel as part of the European Region in the entity's coronavirus situation reports, despite the country's geographical location, according to Fox News.

The media outlet cites a Jerusalem Post op-ed authored by Matthew Wreap. The journalist emphasises that it's not the first time the international entity has demonstrated a prejudice against the Eastern Mediterranean state, as it "routinely singles out Israel and condemns them for supposed human rights violations".

However, no protests have emerged from Israel over the incorporation of the country into the list of European states by the WHO. There is a clear explanation for that: at the 38th World Health Assembly on 13 May 1985, the WHO included Israel in the European Region at the behest of the government of Israel.

"Israel is a member of EURO," says Tarik Jašarević, a media spokesperson for the WHO. "Countries determined this, as they do all issues involving participation in WHO governance.  Such issues are not within the remit of WHO staff.  WHO staff works on technical and operational public health issues, in accordance with the policies set by the countries."

Although listing Israel alongside the European nations might look bizarre, it is where Israel in some sense belongs, says Edy Cohen, a Mideast expert and research fellow at the Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

"We don't belong to the third world here in the Middle East… Israel is the only democracy here… We belong to the first world. And this is how the Westerns also treat us. Our technology, our system. We belong to the West countries," Cohen says, adding that one might also notice that Israel participates in the Eurovision show every year.

Nevertheless, the Middle East expert admits that there's indeed a political bias against Israel: "Israel is always attacked by everyone, by Arab countries and now by the Western countries," he underscores.

The WHO's apparent prejudice towards Israel is nothing new, echoes Dr. Nir Boms, a research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Centre at Tel Aviv University and the coordinator of the TAU Workshop on Israel and the Middle East, adding that the international entity's "own track record is far from shine when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic".

"To begin with, Israel knows where it is and the fact that a comment about its affiliation is coming from the WHO is not anything that causes much interest in Israel," Boms stresses.

He notes that at the beginning of a new week, "Israel is busy with the 'Post Corona' path of shops beginning to open up and a government in the making." 

"As of location, Israel certainly is in the Middle East, although Israel is frequently participating in various European programmes and has very close relations with Europe," the researcher sums up.

Previously, the WHO was called out by Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers over its allegedly preferential treatment of China. However, Israel, despite being a staunch US ally, has not followed the White House's suit: when asked about Trump's decision to cut funding to the WHO, an unnamed Israeli official dealing with the international entity said that Israel "will not take any stance on the matter" and "it is not the time to square up accounts" amid the pandemic, as quoted by The Jerusalem Post.

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