Editorial: Litzman’s failure

UTJ would do well to replace Litzman before he provokes the emergence of another Shinui-style anti-haredi party.

March 25, 2010 09:54
3 minute read.
Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman.

litzman 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )


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The good news to emerge from the Barzilai Medical Center emergency room imbroglio is that public outrage in this country cannot be completely overlooked – that it can still impose second thoughts on perverse government decisions.

The bad news is that our fundamentally flawed coalition system facilitates the infliction of flagrantly unreasonable decisions in the first place.

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The lives of western Negev residents shouldn’t hinge on the assessments of archeological experts who will rule whether six skulls – unearthed below the site destined for the Ashkelon hospital’s rocket-proof new ER – were part of an ancient Jewish burial ground or are pagan remains.

Additionally, no guarantee exists that even the most learned findings, backed by the most authoritative scholarly analysis, will even begin to sway the extreme mentors who impelled Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman to threaten the coalition’s integrity if the structure isn’t relocated.

Have archeologists and haredi diehards ever broadcast on the same wavelength? Only on the rarest of occasions. Hence odds are that reevaluating things will merely postpone further installments of this sordid episode. Litzman’s threat is still potent. He is still out to stymie the construction of a subterranean ER that would cater, in relative security, to the needs of an entire region, regardless of whatever rocketry is launched in its direction from Gaza.

Because of a few clearly pagan graves (in which animals where interred with humans and that are decorated with frescoes of nude figures), Litzman demands that the casualty facility be moved half a kilometer from the hospital proper and that it be above-ground (and therefore less safe). All this would entail ferrying patients to and fro, require new blueprinting, delay the life-saving project by another four years and deplete an extra NIS 136 million from the strapped health coffers, (assuming frustrated donors don’t pull out).

Underscoring this preposterousness is the fact that the project has already been held up for two years after the Chief Rabbinate, which finally approved the transfer of the Ashkelon graves, was forced to back down under haredi pressure.

THIS GOVERNMENT is not the first to face such quandaries and succumb to political extortion. Satirist Ephraim Kishon once wryly noted that Israel is the “only country where you inevitably find bones wherever you dig foundations.” Indeed, Litzman’s own Jerusalem neighborhood is erected on top of ancient tombs.

What makes this particular case stand out is that so-called respect for long-departed supposed ancestors unequivocally intensifies terrorist danger. Even had the graves been distinctly Jewish, there is no halachic prohibition against moving them, especially when public safety is so palpably involved.

Exacerbating all this is the fact that never has someone as out of touch as Litzman been installed at the Health Ministry’s helm. Litzman contends he’s maligned because he’s haredi. But Shas’s Nissim Dahan was likewise haredi. Despite initial misgivings, Dahan turned out to be one of Israel’s best health ministers (2001-03). His haredi status was no impediment. It’s what a haredi minister does that matters, not who he is.

And in this, Litzman is a failure. He’s not only sectarian but impudently and obtusely so. He deducted NIS 65m. from the health basket, removing from it vital medications, to fund children’s dental treatment. Tooth-decay prevention campaigns among haredi families would have constituted an inexpensive alternative.

Litzman’s latest obsession is gender-segregation for mental patients – and not in the same facility but at different hospitals. The superfluous costs and attendant complications stagger the imagination. Concomitantly, Litzman ignores the proposed reform that would add psychiatric care to health fund obligations. He is also out to close fertility units in a yet-undetermined hospital to enable Bnei Brak’s haredi Ma’ayanei Hayeshua Hospital to open one instead.

IT’S INCREASINGLY evident that Ashkelon’s Philistine relics aren’t the problem but, rather, Litzman’s undisguised agenda and bias. He forgets his duty to the entire citizenry and glories in looking after only his narrowing band of supporters. The coalition’s predicament isn’t losing haredi support so much as who it is that speaks for its haredi component.

United Torah Judaism would do well to find a different deputy ministerial choice before Litzman’s excesses provoke the emergence of another Shinui-style anti-haredi party.

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