IMA to petition High Court over lack of health minister

Israel Medical Association head says Netanyahu is "throwing the Israeli people's health to the dogs."

Nahariya Hospital 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Nahariya Hospital 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Israel Medical Association (IMA) intends to petition the High Court of Justice at the start of next week over Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's failure to appoint a full-fledged health minister for the first time in the state's history. "Netanyahu's move is like throwing the Israeli people's health to the dogs," said IMA chairman Dr. Yoram Blachar at Friday's protest assembly at its Ramat Gan headquarters attended by doctors, nurses, health system workers and patients groups. Nurses Association head Eliana Gilad blasted coalition members, rhetorically asking about all those who don't want the post just because there are no jobs for the health minister to allocate, "What are they going to give out? A liver? Kidneys? Yair Amikam, deputy director-general of information and international relations at the Health Ministry, said that one of the Knesset members who had been mentioned as a possible candidate for the post told him that "even if they put a gun to my head, I won't take the job." Dr. Asher Elhayani, director of Kfar Saba's Meir Hospital, said that the Treasury had taken control of the Health Ministry over the last 10 years. "A strong health minister is required to restore the system's budget," he said. "Not appointing a minister sounds like criminal negligence." So far, United Torah Judaism MK Menahem Eliezer Moses has been told he will be the deputy minister of a minister-less ministry. Blachar wrote to Netanyahu on Thursday, calling for "an immediate end to playing with the lives of Israelis while showing contempt for one of the largest ministries. The prime minister will be responsible for anything [bad] that happens." There is nothing factual in the new government's claim that a "deputy minister is like a minister. [Otherwise], there would be no meaning to the fact that only ministers declare their loyalty to the state," Blachar declared. Blachar, who is also president of the World Medical Association, shortened his participation in an international conference abroad to return home in time for the protest. Both Likud and UTJ officials denied an Israel Radio report that the Likud was considering taking back the Health portfolio and appointing one of its ministers-without-portfolio to the position due to the pressure. Moses, a 62-year-old father of 10 who speaks only Yiddish and Hebrew, will have to cope with concerns and doubts about his political clout if he takes charge. A Vizhnitz Hassid, he is also close to the Belz hassidic dynasty and is interested in providing housing for young couples and accommodations for the elderly. He is due to replace Ya'acov Ben-Yizri, the 83-year-old health minister from the defunct Gil Pensioners Party who was considered by most observers to be politically weak and unsuited to the task. Moses, whose efforts have led to the building of numerous haredi nursing homes around the country, studied in yeshivot and served in the adjutancy in the IDF. His Knesset Web site description gives his occupation as "project initiator." Someone in the health system who knows Moses said he was "very smart, catches on quickly and gets along with people." But very few ministry staffers had ever heard of him. Still, one said that "he doesn't have to be a physician or a health expert to be in charge of the ministry. We had a physician [MK Ephraim Sneh] as minister, but he did not do well. The main thing is to have clout that can overcome unreasonable and harmful demands by the Finance Ministry." Another official said that he had no objection to having a haredi MK in charge of the ministry: "Nissim Dahan of Shas was the best and most serious health minister in decades. [Former Shas MK] Shlomo Benizri was also reasonable when he was the first haredi health minister." Moses will be able to sit in cabinet meetings only when health matters are being discussed, but he will not be able to vote there, even when the basket of health services is the subject. "My main problem is that nobody except Moses was willing to take the health portfolio," said another veteran health official. "But I hope he has initiative and knows how to acquire power, because he has to be a fighter." On Wednesday, senior faculty at the Hebrew Univeristy-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine issued a protest statement against the lack of a health minister for the first time in 61 years. "This harms the basic right of the public for health promotion and protection, makes a mockery out of this field and constitutes a lack of public responsibility," the statement said. "This is magnified by the fact that the cabinet has numerous ministers-without-portfolio, but the vital health portfolio is an orphan." Meanwhile, the friends organization of Safed's Rebecca Sieff Hospital sent an urgent letter to Netanyahu and to Negev and Galilee Development Minister Silvan Shalom, stating that the failure to appoint a health minister "harms major projects connected to Galilee residents and soldiers serving along the northern border." Although Moses has not yet set a date for moving into the ministry's Jerusalem headquarters, the Israel Cancer Association called on him on Wednesday to launch a massive fight against smoking. Ben-Yizri, who admitted that he had been smoking for 65 years, did little or nothing to fight smoking.