I am truly humbled and grateful to receive the Yitzhak Rabin Lifetime Medical Leadership Award, an homage to one of the iconic figures in the history of Israel. My deepest thanks to the American Friends of Rabin Medical Center for this profound honor.
I, myself, and many other Americans of my generation considered Yitzhak Rabin not only an Israeli hero but a hero who transcends national boundaries.
I greatly admired Yitzhak Rabin as a visionary and principled leader. He was meticulously strategic yet unafraid to be bold. He was genuine and respectful. He was honest. And he believed in peaceful coexistence.
When I reflect on these qualities and in the context of our current environment, I am dismayed. Because if Yitzhak Rabin were alive today, I believe he would be horrified by what is happening around the world, and certainly by what is happening here in America, the cradle of democracy.
I am referring to the rejections of facts and the normalization of untruths, and how the normalization of untruths—occurring throughout the world, but most dramatically, right here in the United States—is fueling a dangerous divisiveness that increasingly threatens the foundation of our democratic society.
Our country is nearing a third year contending with the transformational COVID-19 pandemic—a pandemic that has killed 1 million Americans and many, many more millions of people around the world. As a public health official involved in helping to lead our response, I have always endeavored, come what may, to tell the truth based on the evidence and data as it unfolded.
Because of this adherence to science and the truth, unfortunately I and many of my public health colleagues have become targets of those who, often for their own gains, propagate lies and disinformation about the pandemic.
Tragically, the COVID-19 pandemic narrative has become politicized to the point of seriously undermining the public health response.
People have lost sight of the fact that our common enemy is not each other, it is the virus.
Different viewpoints in society should be nurtured and encouraged: America’s diverse population historically has made us a healthy, stronger, and more innovative society.
In the spirit of Yitzhak Rabin, we must find common purpose amid our genuine differences, and help mend rather than tear the fabric of our society so that in the future, democracy will prevail.
In this vein, I would like to end my remarks on a positive note.
As you know well, the Rabin Medical Center in Israel is the country’s largest medical institution and a leader in performing innovative technological research and conducting clinical trials.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Israel’s medical research capacity and efficient health monitoring programs have been critical in the global fight against SARS-CoV-2. Our first glimpse at real-world data about the effectiveness of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines often came from information generously shared by Israeli scientists and public health officials who have become our close colleagues and friends.
I have been at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health for 54 years and its Director for 38 years. Soon after assuming the position of Director in 1984, I initiated what is now multi-decade history of research collaboration with institutions in Israel. Current projects focus on a variety of infectious diseases, including among others, influenza, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and tuberculosis.
Recently, our scientists have been working with colleagues in Israel to identify potential collaborative research focused on pandemic preparedness. My colleagues and I look forward to continuing these efforts and to strengthening our partnership with Israeli scientists in the hope that together we will be in a more ready-alert position for the inevitable next emerging pathogen.
Thank you again for this wonderful honor.