UTJ'S Moses takes over Health Ministry amid sea of protests

Lack of minister 'makes a mockery' of health field, critics charge.

Menahem Eliezer Moses 248 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Menahem Eliezer Moses 248 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Amid protests from public health experts that a full-fledged health minister is needed in the third-largest government ministry, United Torah Judaism MK Rabbi Menachem Eliezer Moses was informed Wednesday that he will be deputy minister in charge of a minister-less Health Ministry. The 62-year-old Viznitz hassid, who has 10 children and speaks only Yiddish besides Hebrew, will have to cope with concerns and doubts about his political clout as he takes over. While he is a Viznitz hassid, he is also close to Belz hassidim and is very interested in providing housing for young couples and accommodations for the elderly. He will replace Ya'acov Ben-Yizri, the 83-year-old health minister from the defunct Gil Pensioners Party who was considered by most as politically very weak and unsuited to the task. UTJ has had several MKs who served in government posts but never as ministers because as a "non-Zionist" party, it avoids such positions. Moses just became an MK and already will control the important ministry. Moses, whose efforts have led to the building of numerous haredi geriatric homes around Israel and who was deputy director of the haredi education authority in Jerusalem where he lives, studied in yeshivot and served in the adjutancy in the Israel Defense Forces. His Knesset Web site description gives his occupation as "project initiator." Someone in the health system who knows Moses said he is "very smart, catches on quickly and gets along with people." But very few ministry staffers had ever heard of him; no one was willing to be quoted for obvious reasons. One said that "he doesn't have to be a physician or a health expert to be in charge of the ministry. We had a physician [MK Ephraim Sneh] as minister, but he did not do well. The main thing is to have clout that can overcome unreasonable and harmful demands of the Finance Ministry." Another official said that he had no objection to having a haredi in charge of the ministry. "Nissim Dahan of Shas was the best and most serious health minister in decades. Shlomo Benizri was also reasonable when he was the first haredi health minister." Moses will be able to sit in cabinet meetings only when health matters are being discussed, but he will not be able to vote there, even when the basket of health services is the subject. Ministry officials worry that weakness could encourage Treasury officials to be even more brutal in privatizing health services and reducing budgets. "My main problem is that nobody except Moses was willing to take the Health portfolio," said another veteran health official. "It is very demeaning. But I hope he has initiative and knows how to acquire power, because he has to be a fighter." However, senior faculty at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine protested on Wednesday against the fact that there will be no health minister for the first time in 61 years. "This harms the basic right of the public for health promotion and protection, makes a mockery out of this field and constitutes a lack of public responsibility. This is magnified by the fact that the cabinet has numerous ministers without portfolio, but the vital Health portfolio is an orphan. "This emphasizes the gap between the government's priority list and that of the public. We call on the prime minister to appoint a health minister immediately and restore the honor of the right to health." Although Moses has not yet set a date for moving into the ministry's headquarters, the Israel Cancer Association has called on him to launch a massive fight against smoking, the biggest cause of preventible disease in Israel. Ben-Yizri, who admitted that he has been smoking for 65 years, did little or nothing to fight smoking.