Interest among Israelis in ‘relocation’ soars after overhaul legislation

As threats of judicial reform loom, medical professionals question if their future is in Israel or not.

Doctors and other health professionals protest judicial reform on Monday in Jerusalem. (photo credit: Or Perevoznik)
Doctors and other health professionals protest judicial reform on Monday in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: Or Perevoznik)

Within hours after Gila, a female specialist in family medicine sent out a WhatsApp inquiry for information this week on the possibility of relocation abroad, due to the “catastrophic implications” of the coalition’s judicial reform, the number of physicians who joined reached 3,000 – 10% of all working physicians in Israel. So many joined that the maximum number was exceeded. They switched to Telegram.

While most who joined will probably not uproot their families and move to hospitals and clinics in “greener pastures” abroad, the potential loss of just hundreds would be a heavy blow to healthcare in the country.

So says Prof. Rivka Carmi, former president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and dean of its Faculty of Health Sciences in Beersheba, who called the legislation a catastrophe. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Carmi said that relocation is not simple if you want a good place, “but if 15% to 20% of those seeking information about leaving go through with it, Israel’s healthcare would be devastated. As it is, there’s a severe shortage of physicians.”

Two-thirds of Israeli physicians are graduates of medical schools abroad because of the limited number of places in Israeli medical faculties. Every country has different criteria for accepting foreign physicians, Carmi continued.

“We set up a lobbying group in the Knesset,” she said, but “red tape is no longer the issue; the state of Israel’s democracy and the judicial overhaul by the government is. People don’t want to return. Even the prestigious Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot has some empty offices because Israelis don’t want to come home after doing research abroad.”

Carmi added that “the same creativity and determination that characterized the doctors during COVID-19 is reflected here. Wisdom is in difficult moments to mobilize all the abilities in body and mind to change the situation.”

Israeli physicians, especially specialists, have an excellent reputation, and hospitals are offering them special “packages” of high salaries, homes, schools for their children and working conditions that are less demanding than in Israel. Webinars on relocation possibilities are already being offered to Israeli doctors, she said, and whole groups are being suggested for relocation in more remote places like New Zealand. “We have to put this issue on the national agenda before it’s too late.”

Will these physicians plan to return to Israel?

If, as a whole unit – profession, family, community – these physicians manage to feel in a good place, they won’t come back, the Faculty of Health Sciences dean said. Medical centers in the center of the country will be hurt the most, as the best will leave. As it is, large numbers of physicians who came in the 1990s from the former Soviet Union are retiring, and many Israeli doctors are going into less-demanding job circuits.

Prof. Hagai Levine, chairman of the Association of Public Health Physicians, told the Post that doctors have to “remain here and fight for what they believe in. But I feel sympathy for those who feel their basic values are being shattered. Politicizing medicine would harm public health and medical autonomy. The responsibility for the emerging chaos lies with the government, which continues its recklessness in dismantling the state. If the government does not stop, the healthcare system will be halted.”

After the cancellation of the reasonableness clause, said the Israel Medical Association (IMA), the High Court of Justice, the courts and the labor courts will not be able to discuss any issues that are under the authority of the health minister, including appointments of a government/district health physician; appointments of the members of ministry disciplinary bodies; decisions regarding the punishment for a doctor who commits a disciplinary offense; the preparing of a list of communicable diseases; the establishment or closure of departments and professional units in hospitals; determining instructions regarding the installation and operation of cameras in the common space and in the private space; setting down the powers currently held by the Israel Scientific Council on specialist degrees, exemption from exams and the like.

Determining the length a suspended doctor’s license may be revoked; passing a judicial review on the inactivity of the government and the ministers in regards to violence against doctors; supervision of the health services provided to patients; judicial review of the budgeting of the health system and the various treatments for the insured; the provision of vaccines and more, will be the prerogative of the health minister, as will allocation of resources to the psychiatric hospitals; and limiting doctors’ salaries, in which decisions were made by the government and its ministers. They could report to the authorities on the personal status of patients including pregnancies, sexual proclivities, psychiatric illnesses and others.

Levine worked as an epidemiologist and adjunct assistant professor at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York for a year. He said the conditions were “comfortable. I saw haredim [ultra-Orthodox] working as doctors, who can study Torah and take jobs. But in Israel, there is a distortion of Judaism, an effort to detach from the modern world. American hospitals let you work. Such places tempt Israeli scientists to stay there. Now, instead of the government of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu listening to doctors, we don’t have a right to speak,” concluded Levine.

Prof. Jonathan Halevy, president of Shaare Zedek Medical Center who was its director-general from 1988 to 2019, told the Post he understood the serious unease of doctors, especially younger ones with children, with the government’s legislation. But “even though I’m very worried, I am optimistic that despite everything, Netanyahu will overcome the desires of the extremists in his cabinet and will wake up to the dangers posed by all their legislative plans, especially the Override Clause.”

Halevy said it was “incredible that four of the 34 Likud MKs, many of whom oppose the actions and statements of the extreme members of the coalition, haven’t opposed the dangers they have brought to the nation. There are divisions in society that never existed like this. I don’t think there will be a massive emigration of doctors and other professionals we need, but if Netanyahu doesn’t wake up, there is a real danger of such a catastrophe.”

As chairman of the executive committee of the Netzah Association that trains haredi children from 15 schools in core studies of English, math, and science that entitles them to a matriculation certificate, Halevy believes in the integration of all sectors of the public, including Arabs.

IMA chairman Prof. Zion Hagay said that “political intervention in research studies could harm Israel’s reputation for high-level medical studies and discourage international companies from bringing new technologies to Israel.”

Relocation on physician's mind

The dissent by most physicians in Israel and the interest among some about relocating abroad has aroused attention from leading internationally acclaimed medical journals. The British Medical Journal (BMJ) has published a full-page article in the news section of its July 26 issue on “Israel: Doctors strike to protest against judicial overhaul.” The Lancet, also in the UK, will publish an article next week on the subject.

At an emergency online meeting of Science Abroad held Wednesday with the participation of senior Israeli doctors and officials, Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman Tov implored the doctors to “continue with the commitment towards the medical system and the Israeli public.”

The director of Shamir Medical Center (Assaf Harofeh) in Tzrifin, Dr. Osnat Levtzion-Korach told the listeners that “we lived in Boston for three wonderful years, but we realized that it isn’t ours and will never be ours. We returned to Israel after our fourth son was born there.”

She added though that “this period is very difficult. When you go to demonstrations, you see a lot of good people. From this aspect, the demonstrations have done a lot of good. There is no other place where social solidarity is like here, for better or worse. At the medical level, we have a system with compassion and good people. The level of medicine is very high.”

According to Dr. Efrat Baron-Harlev, director-general of the Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tikva, “the system in which we work is actually the only system in Israel where it goes without saying that we are all together, as caregivers and patients. We have to find ways to expand the system. We need all of you.”

Prof. Dina Ben-Yehuda, dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the Hebrew University and the director of the hematology unit at the Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem, said the WhatsApp group is unsettling. “I saw on the list the names of doctors I taught, those who specialized and were with me as Hadassah physicians. In 2026, we will have the lowest ratio of physicians to the population in the OECD. This is more of a call for help and a protest than anything else.”

Prof. Arnon Afek, deputy CEO of Sheba Medical Center who was previously a Health Ministry director-general said “We must find the ability to bridge people. It is very important that doctors study here. At the national level, there is a shortage of doctors and the fact is that the ministry mobilized to provide scholarships to those who study abroad so they can return to Israel. It is true that in recent years, we see more doctors postponing their return and that saddens me.

“I believe with all my heart that the right place to raise our children is here,” Afek said. “We have never been in a situation in which there were no difficulties. I am sure that we will find the golden path.”