Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver and MK Arye Eldad exchanged accusations this week over a bill sponsored by Eldad that would require immigrant doctors to take a Hebrew test before receiving their license to practice.
"This is a bad bill," accused Landver (Israel Beiteinu), noting that the country has absorbed 25,000 doctors among the million-strong Russian-speaking aliya of the 1990s. "I can't imagine our over-stretched medical system without them."
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, she insisted these doctors already know a basic Hebrew for interaction with patients, since they have access to an Absorption Ministry-funded Hebrew ulpan.
They "shouldn't be forced to overcome more obstacles. Every doctor knows he can make more money in America or Canada. If he's already decided to come to Israel, why are we making it more difficult for him?" Landver asked.
According to Eldad (National Union), Landver's opposition is politically motivated.
"This is such a trivial thing that I'm amazed a minister in Israel could oppose it," he said, accusing her of "trying to protect the doctors, while I'm trying to protect the sick."
Eldad said that Landver had supported the bill when it came before the cabinet, but decided to oppose it "after some clerks in her ministry told her it would be politically ruinous for her to support this."
A practicing surgeon for more than two decades, former IDF chief medical officer and currently head of the plastic surgery and burns unit at the capital's Hadassah University Medical Center, Eldad cited researchers who say that the most common mistakes in medicine "are in reporting and communication. Imagine a doctor who can't read the medical transcript, because it's in Hebrew.
"Imagine a surgeon who doesn't know that you had a similar operation recently because he can't read your file."
A language exam is a basic demand around the world, he said.
"If you want to work in the United States, they make you take an English exam while still in the embassy. England has a much worse shortage of doctors than Israel, and a huge number of immigrant physicians. But even so you can't even begin getting licensed without a language exam."
Israel already requires such a language exam from nurses, he added. "I don't want doctors to take an exam harder than what nurses have to pass."
Israel should continue to encourage immigration, he said. "In fact, let's have a special ulpan just for immigrant doctors, and I'd be very happy to teach in it on a volunteer basis."
Speaking to Army Radio on Sunday, Landver invited Eldad to tour hospitals with her and to show him how well the immigrant physicians do their work.
"That would be an interesting experience," retorted Eldad. "I've worked in hospitals for 25 years, but I don't think I've ever seen one as a tourist."
Landver's opposition may be enough to torpedo the bill, since it could mean Israel Beiteinu, the second-largest member of the coalition, with 15 MKs, will oppose it.