Cabinet vote on Barzilai postponed

Litzman: ER won't be built on bones, even if change of plans costs NIS 100m.

March 14, 2010 10:11
3 minute read.
Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman.

litzman 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )


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The Cabinet vote on whether to spend NIS 100 million more to change plans for the construction of a fortified emergency room for Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center at the demand of Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman was postponed on Sunday to an unknown date.

The vote had originally been planned for Sunday morning.

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Litzman has spoken out against moving ancient bones found on the designated site. Archeologists say they are not Jewish, but Christian remnants from the Byzantine period.

The deputy health minister's position has caused serious problems in his relationship with his hand-picked director-general, Dr. Eitan Hai-Am, who opposed the delay and waste of money. Kadima MK Rachel Adatto on Thursday asked the chairman of the Knesset Control Committee to hold a session on reports that Litzman intends to dismiss Hai-Am, as well as the doctor’s own threats to resign.

The director-general, a former director-general of Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba, has voiced his opposition to Litzman’s position regarding the construction of a rocket- and missile-proof new emergency room at Barzilai, instead of the current facility that has been endangered by firing from Gaza terrorists, especially during Operation Cast Lead.

Meanwhile, works committees representing 3,000 Health Ministry employees sent Hai-Am a strong letter of support for him. "We learned that recently, you wanted to resign over differences of opinion with the deputy health minister on purely professional matters," wrote the group, who included staffers in the main ministry office where Litzman works, district health offices, state hospitals, institutes and labs.

"In a short period, you learned in depth the complicated health system, its failures and complexities while creating a close relationship with the staff. We learned that you are a professional man of values, moral and fair, who is willing to sacrifice himself for his principles so as to ensure that the residents of Israel have a high level of health services," the letter went. They added that his door was always open and that Ha-Am was the "ray of light" that they had been waiting for. The unions called on the director-general not to leave his post" because of his dispute with Litzman and called on the deputy minister to "do all that is possible to find a solution to this crisis for the good of the whole system."

Litzman, a Gur hassidi rabbi from United Torah Judaism, insists that the old bones found in the site long planned for the new emergency room were "Jewish bones" that "can’t be moved." Instead, Litzman wants the emergency room to be constructed on a more distant parking lot, which will cost NIS 100 million more and take 18 months longer to plan and construct.

Adatto, a physician and lawyer by profession, told The Jerusalem Post that Hai-Am is an very good administrator and that it would be a shame for Litzman to fire him over this issue.

The haredi papers have been full on reports recently claiming that the deputy minister indeed intends to fire Hai-Am over the Barzilai issue. "Gush Katif was full of old graves, and the bones were all moved, and no haredi rabbis opposed it. They have allowed other skeletons to be moved as well. But suddenly, they make a fuss and want to delay the construction of this vital facility because of Byzantine bones," Adatto said, "even though it could save lives.

She said that the issue was "a matter of principle" for Haim-Am, who declined to comment. The Health Ministry spokeswoman also declined to comment on the matter.

Meanwhile, last week, the State Attorney’s office told the High Court of Justice that the government supports Litzman’s opposition to moving the graves for Barzilai’s expansion. But it also supported the proposal to build the new emergency room.

However, the State Attorney’s office conceded that choosing another site for the facility had disadvantages -- the delay in construction and the significant extra cost. Thus during the next few weeks, an alternate proposal will be prepared and brought to the cabinet for a vote.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (who is formally health minister), reached an agreement with Litzman and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz to protect the existing hospital with an "exterior envelope" that will add to the costs and temporarily offer some protection to the structure until the new emergency room wing is completed.

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