There is no place for separating hospital patients on ethnic, racial or religious grounds, Dr. Michael Dor, head of the Health Ministry’s general medical branch, told a session of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee on Monday.

The meeting was held at the initiative of Labor MK Ghaleb Majadle, who was upset by reports that such unofficial segregation in obstetrics wards is taking place at the women’s request.

“The ministry and the hospitals have a clear policy against segregating patients,” Dor said. “If we receive information about any case, we will deal with it immediately. It is true that there are patient requests to be in a ward with people close to them in age or culturally.”

Majadle, a Knesset deputy speaker, said that in a place where an Arab doctor treats Jewish patients, Jewish and Arab mothers cannot be separated.

An Arab surgeon is “permitted” to treat a Jewish woman, but his wife is “not good enough” to lie in the next bed. “Instead of living together honorably, with patience and understanding, are we teaching segregation? This phenomenon must be removed by the roots immediately, as the health system is the most egalitarian system in the State of Israel,” he declared.

MKs Zehava Galon, Ilan Gilon and MK Afo Agbaria joined Majadle’s demands at the session, which was also attended by MK Shlomo Molla and MK Rachel Adatto, who like Agbaria is a physician. The committee called on the health authorities to be alert to this phenomenon of segregation, whether initiated by the hospital or at the request of patients.

Agbaria said he worked for years as a physician in public hospitals and knew that “such incidents occurred, and not only in maternity units. It is not a policy but daily practice. With my own eyes I saw how women patients asked not to have Arabs or Jews from Ethiopia or the Caucasus in their rooms.”

There were also Jewish patients who didn’t want Arab medical personnel to treat them, he said. There is no place for such a phenomenon, Agbaria said.

Gilon said that there is a “continuous line between [Jews’] refusal to rent apartments to Ethiopian [Jews] in Kiryat Malachi and to Arabs in Safed, and separating mothers in maternity wards.”

“Our society is sick,” Molla said. “Nationalism is frightening. Professionals have to be sensitive and check themselves on whether they are ignoring such incidents.”

Dr. Benny Davidson of the Association of Hospital Directors responded that the healthcare system is very egalitarian.

“We try to meet requests of new mothers if possible. But the phenomenon of segregating them by nationality does not exist and has no significance.”

Lior Bechor of the Struggle against Racism added: “Why does a new mother have to be pampered this way? Why should haredi Jews be allowed gender-segregated buses. This is a wrong criterion according to the law.”

Adatto, a longtime obstetrician and gynecologist, said that it was a “difficult discussion for me to attend. Until three years and two days ago, when I became an MK, I was a doctor in an ob/gyn department. It is clear that there is racism in this country, but not in hospitals, and we surely cannot fight racism through maternity wards.”

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