The crisis that erupted suddenly on Sunday as a result of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke has once again raised the issue of the health of the country's national leaders.
As matters stand now, the public will vote on March 28 for the leader of the country without having any idea of the state of the candidates' health or an authoritative prognosis of their chances of completing their term in office.
The health of political leaders is always an important issue in Israel because of the singular responsibilities that the prime minister shoulders in a country still fighting for its existence and the excessive stress that these responsibilities create.
In Sharon's particular case, there are two additional reasons why his health should be regarded as an important factor in deciding whether or not to re-elect him. In the first place, Sharon, at 77, is already the oldest serving prime minister in the country's history. Secondly, at least for now, Kadima is a one-man party. Hardly anyone who casts their vote for Kadima will be voting for the party and will rather be voting for Sharon. Should Sharon be incapacitated for health reasons, the country will be governed by a leader, if not a party, that few were really interested in.
On June 14, several months before Sharon established Kadima, MK Yuli Tamir (Labor) submitted a private member's bill to the Knesset calling on the prime minister to publish a report on the state of his health once a year. In her explanation of the bill, Tamir wrote that, "The right of the public to know provides just cause to make the report obligatory, especially when we are talking about the prime minister, whose health influences his ability to function and, indirectly, that of the entire government." Tamir was unavailable to comment on her initiative, which has not yet been brought to the plenum for preliminary reading.
As matters stand now, there is no law forcing the prime minister to disclose his health. According to the Right to Privacy Law, no doctor may divulge details of his patient's health without the permission of the patient or his family. That law applies to the prime minister as much as it does to any citizen.
MK Michael Eitan (Likud), head of the Knesset Law Committee, told The Jerusalem Post he was against a law forcing the prime minister or the candidates for the office of prime minister to issue a public report on their health. "We don't need such a law," he said. "However, the moment that the prime minister cannot function, this situation must immediately be brought to the attention of the public."