Although Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri called on the defense and internal security ministers on Thursday to approve a bill proposing more severe punishments for those who attack medical staff, The Jerusalem Post learned that Ben-Yizri himself voted against such a private member's bill on its preliminary reading in the Knesset, last October 24. The minister's communications adviser Tal Harel, who issued a press release containing Ben-Yizri's statement against violence in medical facilities, refused to comment when the Post asked him why his boss had voted against it. The Ministerial Committee on Legislation last year opposed the bill, initiated by Meretz MK Haim Oron, as the Justice Ministry objected to the setting of a minimum six months of imprisonment and a recommended six-year sentence for such a crime. At present, a law punishing physical attacks on a civil servant set a five-year recommended sentence, without a required minimum. When the bill went to the plenum for its preliminary reading, 28 MKs voted against it (including Ben-Yizri) while only 12 MKs supported it. On Thursday, Ben-Yizri visited the bedside of 58-year-old Dr. Marius Gai, deputy head of urology at Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot, who is now in serious condition - attached to a respirator and anesthetized - at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer. Gai, who has also worked for many years as a community physician for Maccabi Health Services, was repeatedly stabbed in the back and shoulder with a screwdriver by a 64-year-old patient from Rehovot. The attacker was upset that surgery he was to undergo had been rescheduled. Although the attacker fled the scene, he later gave himself up to the police. Dr. Eran Segal, director of Sheba's general intensive care unit and chairman of the hospital's doctors' committee, said the screwdriver caused damage to Gai's spinal column but that it was not yet clear whether he will be paralyzed. Segal added, "It is too early to say whether he will be able to function and continue to work as a doctor." Gai underwent a spinal operation and his elbow, which was dislocated, was also repaired. He was moved from Kaplan to Sheba because the Rehovot hospital does not have a neurosurgery department. Segal, who said he has witnessed incidents of verbal and near-physical violence at Sheba, said the attack was "horrible... it can happen to any doctor or nurse. There are no security men in the area; there isn't even a metal detector at the entrance to the hospital. The administration must ensure that our workplace is safe. I recommend that attackers be tried and punished very fast and sent to jail." Raviv Maisel, a lawyer who heads the public policy unit of the Israel Medical Association, told the Post he couldn't understand Justice Ministry and Knesset opposition to the bill, which he largely wrote, as it said that the six-month minimum sentence could be reduced by the court "in special circumstances" that are fully explained. Maisel added that attackers of medical staffers have rarely been punished. "Two years ago there was a case of a geriatrician in Clalit Health Servicesâ€š Tel Aviv district, whose attacker received a two-year sentence that was reduced by half a year. The geriatrician sued the attacker in civil court and received NIS 180,000 in compensation." Doctors at Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot worked according to a Shabbat schedule on Thursday and did not treat non-emergency patients after the screwdriver attack. Prof. Zion Hagai, chairman of the hospital's doctors' committee, said that "all the red lines have been crossed" regarding violence against medical staffers, "and we are paying the price. Israeli society must take immediate action against violent patients [and visitors] who harm those who serve them." Israel Medical Association chairman Dr. Yoram Blachar strongly denounced the attack, saying society has failed to protect those who treat patients. He expressed his sorrow that the Knesset had voted down Oron's bill. He also called on MKs to push through a bill that would allow the medical establishment to refuse treatment for those who had committed violence in its institutions. The Association of Government Physicians expressed its shock over the attack on Gai and instituted two-hour workers' assemblies Thursday morning in all the hospitals. Dr. Shlomo Azrielli, the secretary-general of the association, said "the handwriting has been on the wall for a long time, as verbal or physical abuse occurs almost daily but nothing practical has been done to stop it. What has to happen before security and legal measures are implemented against violent patients and their families?"