MKs call on Health Ministry to enforce laws against hospital room segregation

Lawmakers in coalition and opposition speak out against the practice, even when patients request it.

Long empty hospital corridor (illustrative) (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Long empty hospital corridor (illustrative)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
The law comes before patients’ preferences, Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women head Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List) said in a meeting about segregated maternity wards in hospitals.
The meeting was called after Israel Radio reported last week that several hospitals acquiesce to mothers’ requests that they not be put in the same room as either Jewish or Arab mothers in maternity wards, even though doing so is illegal. MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) caused an uproar after he said his wife would not want to be in a room with an Arab woman, because he said Arab families are large and noisy and their babies could grow up to be terrorists. Smotrich claimed that most Israeli Jews agree with him, though polling days later showed 61 percent disagree with him.
“The debate about the phenomenon revealed a difficult reality,” Touma-Sliman said, opening the meeting. “Not only is there separation in hospitals, but there is separation based on nationality and race in other places as well. The health system can and must be an island of sanity.”
MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List), an obstetrician by profession, said he wants to thank Smotrich for “putting a mirror in front of Israeli society and saying what many other people do and say.
“He and his wife apparently don’t know Jewish history,” Tibi added. “I recommend he go back several decades, so that he learns where these kinds of words come from, because they sound more authentic in German.”
MK Anat Berko (Likud) said that the law, which prohibits racial segregation in hospitals, comes first, and if women want to be able to control the exact conditions of their hospital stay, they should not go to a public hospital.
“My Iraqi ‘clan’ might bother some people,” she quipped, referring to her family’s roots.
Zionist Union MK Yael Cohen-Paran suggested that the fact that there is competition between hospitals, and women can choose where to give birth, makes the hospitals try to appeal to pregnant women in any way possible, and that situation led to them allowing separation.
Hospital Managers’ Association chairman Dr. Eran Halpern accused Smotrich of sullying “the cleanest system in Israel.”
In the recent wave of violence, Halpern said, there were many cases in which an Arab doctor treated an IDF soldier or a Jewish doctor treated a Palestinian terrorist.
“There are requests from patients, and we deal with complex ethical problems every day, but our situation is good, even compared to the US. A black man in Chicago won’t get the kind of care a Beduin receives in Soroka [in Beersheba] or Beilinson [in Petah Tikva],” he said.
Prof. Drorith Hochner, manager of the women and maternity ward in the Hadassah-University Medical Center on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus, said that Arab and Jewish patients receive the same treatment, but that they try to be considerate of everyone’s requests.
“There are Arab women who ask not to be with Jewish women. We try to separate secular and haredi women, for example, so that the secular women won’t disturb the haredi women by using phones on Shabbat,” she said.
Asked whether she would agree to a patient’s request not to be in the same room as another patient of Ethiopian origin, Hochner said “certainly,” sparking shouts from others in the meeting.
Shaarei Tzedek Hospital Director Prof. Yonatan Halevy said “it’s natural that when a secular woman with tattoos and a nose ring comes in, she won’t be put in the same room as a haredi woman. Nurses naturally put mothers with someone she’ll connect with better.
It’s not racism. We never agreed to not have an Arab doctor treat someone.”
MK Yussef Jabareen (Joint List) responded that “cultural and social reasons are not a defense for racist stances. There is a difference between substantive coordination, like for religious reasons and Sabbath observance, and racism.”
Health Ministry representative Dr. Sigal Taub-Librent said there are no policies of separation in maternity wards or anyone else.
“In hospital visits, we see homogeneity of patients,” she said, “but to say there is a policy is not true.”
Taub-Librent said she called hospital directors to a meeting to clarify the situation and to make sure they do not have a policy of separation.
Tuma-Sliman closed the meeting by saying the Health Ministry and hospital directors are responsible for the situation, and they should make sure to follow laws prohibiting discrimination.
“First and foremost, the law must be respected, before patients’ preferences,” she stated.