(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman praised the Hadassah Medical Organization and its two university medical centers, during a Thursday visit to Ein Kerem that had been scheduled weeks before the latest brouhaha over its treatment of the hassidic child suspected of being starved by his mother.
Litzman, a Jerusalemite who regularly goes to the hospital to visit sick friends, spent a few minutes in the guarded room of the child, but no outsiders - especially the press - were allowed in. Asked to comment on what he saw, Litzman said he would not, because "I am not a doctor."
Prior to touring the pediatric wards, emergency department, trauma center and psychiatry department, the MK from United Torah Judaism attended an hour-long briefing with Hadassah Medical Organization director-general Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, his deputy, Dr. Yair Birnbaum, and chairmen of all the hospital's departments.
Contrary to haredi claims that the broad haredi community would boycott the hospitals, there were plenty of them in the departments visited.
Birnbaum, a modern Orthodox physician who lives in a mostly haredi neighborhood, has himself been abused by haredi extremists who phoned in threats against his life and printed street posters hung in haredi neighborhoods (including his own) comparing him to Josef Mengele - the notorious Nazi war criminal who conducted sadistic "medical experiments" on Jewish concentration camp victims.
The Hadassah-Israel offices in Jerusalem that represents the Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization of America also received nasty calls and threats.
Mor-Yosef asserted that Hadassah institutions "serve the whole population of Israel, especially Jerusalemites, and do so with respect for all. The hospitals treat a million people as outpatients or inpatients each year."
Mor-Yosef showed slides of haredi street posters demanding that Birnbaum "take his kippa off" and comparing him with the Nazi doctor.
"Is that what we deserve?" asked the softspoken director-general. "I am glad that the deputy minister did not cancel his visit. We see that as an expression of backing for Hadassah. This is a place of mercy, not war. We do this every day, and our doctors' hands are holy and pure. We do not abuse children."
Litzman said that "if I had known that you would be showing pashkavillim [haredi street posters], I would have brought some from my collection of those printed against me. It doesn't bother me. I have even been pummelled [by extremist haredim]."
The deputy minister added that if anything went wrong in Hadassah's handling of the "starvation" case, there are authorities that can investigate.
"But we are not used to it," commented Mor-Yosef from his seat in the audience.
"Hadassah is an excellent hospital... It is precious to me. I will give it my full backing. The hospitals are advanced according to any measure.
"Those who have carried out these acts do not represent all of haredi Jewry," said Litzman. "Only one sector is doing what it is doing against you. Yair," he said, looking at Birnbaum, "I know it is not pleasant."
Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, director of the National Council for the Child, wrote to Litzman asking him to show his full support and protection to Hadassah and its medical staff, whom he praised effusively.
Kadman said the current situation is very worrisome because his organization "fears the attacks on the hospital will cause professionals to minimize their sensitivity to and ignore signs of the possibility that young patients have been abused. We worry that the voice of children and babies who have been abused will not be heard. This could pose a serious risk to life," he said, thus Litzman's intervention was crucial.