“First, do no harm.” Perhaps the most eminent statement of medical ethics. A statement the incoming coalition intends to remove or at least downgrade from Israel’s medical code.
Over the past week, the incoming coalition has reached agreements to amend the law prohibiting discrimination in public services and places so that certain types of discrimination deemed as being motivated by “religious belief” will be allowed.
This amendment will allow everything from segregation between men and women to refusing to provide basic services to LGBTQ people, although only if a similar product or service is reasonably available.
While there is logic to allowing events to gender segregate for religious sensitives (similar to how we – hopefully – wouldn’t ban a Muslim woman from wearing hijab just because secular society sees it as restrictive), the question becomes “where do we draw the line?”
Now, there are reasonable places to draw the line. There is no reason to force a printer to prepare LGBTQ pride parade ads if it is opposed to it when there are a hundred other shops ready to do so.
It would be ludicrous to ban gender segregation at an event for the haredi community, in which both men and women will only attend if there is such segregation.
Orit Struck has gone too far
But on Sunday, Religious Zionist MK Orit Struck took things too far.
In a response to a question about whether a doctor would be able to refuse treatment to LGBTQ patients or single women, Struck told KAN Reshet Bet that a doctor cannot be forced to provide treatment if it “goes against his religious belief,” as long as there are other doctors around.
How will the motive of “religious belief” be determined? Who will determine which beliefs are acceptable and which aren’t? If a doctor turns away an LGBTQ patient or a woman or a Jew or a Muslim because of what he says is “religious belief,” will a court ever be able to prosecute him? There are plenty of other doctors, no? And that is all ignoring the blatant health risks of delaying healthcare while searching for a doctor willing to treat you.
When the first patient dies because a doctor refused to treat them due to “religious belief,” will the hands of the authorities not be hands for good? Will it be medical negligence or an expression of religious freedom? Who will decide? The courts, which the incoming government intends to heavily constrict? The government, which only narrowly represents a specific aspect of religious belief?
Playing around with discrimination, especially in a religious state like Israel, is a dangerous game. While the law can and has been harmful to religious freedom, simply “loosening the reins” simply transfers the harm elsewhere and often even rebounds. At what point does religious freedom simply become a license for oppression?
So which do we prefer? A law that gives a free hand to discrimination “in the name of God” or a law that makes discrimination a fineable offense, no matter who it is directed at?
An “except-for” clause in discrimination without strict and careful wording will only worsen the situation, especially if applied to such essential services as healthcare.
Netanyahu denies he allows discrimination
Netanyahu has denied in interviews given in the US that he is allowing discrimination in his coalition, reiterating on Sunday that “the coalition agreements do not allow LGBTQ people to be discriminated against or to harm their rights to receive services as any citizen in Israel.”
Who should we trust? The man who openly broke explicit promise after promise in the past decade concerning the LGBTQ community and women’s rights in the name of protecting his position as the head of government?
Or the majority of his coalition allies and the agreements written in ink, that he signed and of which provide them with the powers to freely discriminate and suppress freedoms with their independent authority without his approval?
Mr. Netanyahu, where will you draw the line? When the blood of a woman refused treatment stains the pages of these deals you’re signing?
Words are nothing without action. Take a stand. Show strength, instead of the weakness and desperation you have shown up until now, before it is too late.
When history looks back, is this how you would have yourself remembered? As the man who signed the world away for a chair? Or as the man who realized how far things had gone, and could go, and took a stand?
“The book of laws of a state essentially expresses the moral code of that state,” said Struck on Sunday, and that is certainly true.
Are the agreements being signed now really how we want the moral code of the Jewish state to look?