Celebrity mystic Uri Geller joined Israel’s drive to vaccinate its elderly population against COVID-19 on Thursday, performing his trademark spoon-bending trick for medical staff as he got injected.
“I did it!” Geller, 75, said after the spoon broke in his hand while the needle went into the other arm, to applause from onlookers.
“Everybody who is over 60 should get it immediately,” said Geller, who has a second home in Britain. “This is very, very important for the whole planet.”
Israel launched its vaccination campaign on Dec. 19 and hopes to have administered first and booster shots to the most vulnerable 25% of its population by late January.
In the early days of the pandemic, a panicked Israel began using a mass surveillance tool on its civilians, tracking people’s cellphones in hopes of stopping the spread of the coronavirus.
The government touted the technology, normally used to catch wanted Palestinian militants, as a breakthrough against the virus. But months later, the tool’s effectiveness is being called into question and critics say its use has come at an immeasurable cost to the country’s democratic principles.
“The idea of a government watching its own citizens this closely should ring the alarm,” said Maya Fried, a spokeswoman for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which has repeatedly challenged the use of the tool in court. “This is against the foundations of democracy. You can’t just give up on democracy during a crisis.”
Little is known about the technology. According to the Yediot Ahronot daily, the Shin Bet internal security service has used the tool for two decades, sweeping up metadata from anyone who uses telecom services in Israel. Information collected includes the cellular device’s location, web browsing history and calls and texts received and made, but not their content. That has reportedly helped the agency track militants and halt attacks, although it’s unclear what happens to all of the data.
Israel first brought the Shin Bet into its virus outbreak battle in March. By tracking the movements of people infected with the coronavirus, it could determine who had come into contact with them and was at risk of infection, and order them into quarantine.
With the contact tracing capabilities of Israel’s Health Ministry limited, the Shin Bet was seen as the best option to pick up the slack, even though its own leaders were reluctant to deploy the tool. The Shin Bet declined to comment.
Officials say the technology has been a critical tool in keeping track of the outbreak and insist they have struck a balance between protecting individual rights and public health.
( with inputs from agencies )