IDF delays implementing new protocols for immigrant physicians

Set to begin January 1, the law would have raised the draft age and increased the length of service for immigrant doctors

Dr. Michel Alimi (second from the right) with a team of other French medical professionals. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dr. Michel Alimi (second from the right) with a team of other French medical professionals.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A new law to raise the age limit and prolong the service of new immigrant physicians in the IDF has been postponed following opposition from various immigrant organizations.
The new directives, formulated by Brig.-Gen. Dr. Tarif Bader the chief medical officer of the IDF, were set to be implemented on January 1, and would have seen new immigrant physicians and dentists until the age of 35 drafted into the IDF for 24 months.
Currently, doctors and dentists who immigrate to Israel under the age of 33 and who inform the Health Ministry that they are physicians are required to serve for 18 months.
The decision to postpone the implementation of the new directives came following a Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee meeting with the IDF and various immigrant groups, such as Nefesh B’Nefesh and Gvahim,a subsidiary of the Rashi Foundation, who warned this change could reduce the number of physicians who immigrate.
When contacted by The Jerusalem Post, the IDF refused to comment on the matter, saying only that they were studying the issue.
The head of the Immigration and Absorption Committee, MK Avraham Neguise, stressed Wednesday during the meeting that “Immigration to Israel is the lifeblood of the state and the IDF cannot act against it or harm it.”
According to Neguise and the immigrant groups involved, the change of procedures were formulated by the IDF without informing any relevant parties and without any consultations with the parties concerned, including the Health Ministry and the Aliya and Integration Ministry.
Ran Calderon, a representative of the Aliya Ministry, objected to the new directives and emphasized the negative message that the Diaspora would get if the IDF would implement the new guidelines, warning that doctors would prefer other countries to Israel.
“For us, this is a move that will significantly harm the number of doctors who immigrate to Israel each year,” said a statement by various immigrant groups. “A change in such procedures that takes place without prior warning and informing the public is immoral and unfair.”
Immigrants to Israel especially physicians, they said, plan their aliya at least one or two years in advance and therefore, the new guidelines would impact not only the number of physicians in the army but the healthcare system of the entire country.
Like the Israeli healthcare system, the IDF is also critically lacking physicians. A May report by military ombudsman Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick found that one doctor treats approximately 1,200 soldiers and one mental health officer is responsible for 2,300 soldiers.
According to Lt.-Col. Gennady Meinschluss, 155 immigrant doctors have enlisted in the IDF in the last seven years, three from the United States, seven from France, seven from Britain and the rest from Russia and Ukraine.
Physicians who immigrate to Israel enlist in the IDF and almost always serve as battalion doctors, providing general medical treatment to soldiers on army bases and not in clinics. These doctors usually only go home to their families every two weeks and, while they receive salaries of career soldiers, their salaries are still significantly lower than salaries of physicians who work in the community or hospitals across the country.
Ronen Fuxman, the government advocacy adviser at Nefesh B’Nefesh, warned Wednesday that doctors will be deterred from moving to Israel, especially because not only would they not be guaranteed by the IDF to specialize in their field but that they would be unable to pay their debts of about $200,000 on an IDF salary.
Because of the new guidelines, doctors will postpone their immigration, choosing instead to set up a clinic and raise their children in their home countries, Fuxman warned.
Yonatan Rubinstein, manager of the Gvahim’s Olim Medical program that helps French doctors immigrate to Israel, told the Post on Thursday that they have about 360 physicians in France preparing to move to Israel.
While Rubinstein said the meeting with the IDF was positive, “To make this type of decision without any discussions with the other side, to do it one-sided, will have the opposite effect.
“The French community is very Zionist and serving in the army is very important for them,” he said, adding that if the army had decided to implement the protocol then the French aliya to Israel would have “definitely decreased. They would have only come in 50 years when they have retired.”