Hospital segregation? Remember we were strangers in a strange land

Rather than giving in to prejudice and fear we should spread hope and tolerance.

Bezalel Smotrich. (photo credit: Courtesy/Regavim)
Bezalel Smotrich.
(photo credit: Courtesy/Regavim)
I have been with my mother in hospitals in the UK and here in Israel.
All hospitals contain a richly varied human tapestry at all levels – patients, doctors, nurses, visitors and of course the thousands of other hospital employees.
It would never occur to my mother to ask the religion or ethnicity of the neighboring patient, whether in London or Jerusalem, just as she would never be worried whether the attending doctor be from Newcastle or Nairobi.
I have always felt that there is something about illness and the power of healing that brings all people to the same level. In the world of the sick, we expect medical professionals to be colorblind.
It would be shameful to hear of a Muslim doctor in the UK refusing to treat a Christian patient as much as it would be ridiculous for a Jewish patient to expect to be treated only by Jewish doctors.
In our search for health, the aspect of us all being created in the image of God, but with the fallibility of man comes into very clear focus. Indeed in those very moments, intimacy of a kind not possible elsewhere can occasionally take place, as many have testified personally on Facebook in Israel since the report this week alleging that some Jewish women requested to be separated from Arab women in maternity wards.
After hundreds of years living as a minority – often a minority denied its basic civil rights – we must draw from that collective experience and apply it to add to our practice of being a sovereign state where we are the majority and we make the rules. This is complex and made more difficult by the real sense of being surrounded by enemies, living here with an unabated threat of terrorism for more than 100 years.
We are repeatedly exhorted by the Torah to remember what it is to be a stranger in a strange land. Undoubtedly the Bnei Yisrael in Egypt were perceived as an enemy within. Pharaoh makes this point quite clearly, and indeed tries to employ tactics to combat this perceived threat. How ironic that the target of Pharaoh’s wrath are the Jewish babies, and the tool for his wicked plan was intended to be the Jewish midwifes, Yocheved and Miriam.
While it would be absurd to compare the allegations about the request of some Jewish mothers in maternity wards in any way to this ancient decree against the Jews, I cannot disassociate the moral blunder of justifying this limited preference for separation with our need to remember our past as a persecuted minority.
Lest we forget, Israel has a proud record of members of its Arab minority being part of all the major professions – medicine, law, politics, academia etc.
However we must not forget that vigilance (rather than hysteria) is required to make sure that these liberties, not only underpinned by universal values, but very much based on core Jewish values, cannot be taken for granted.
One of the features of Israeli society we can be most proud of is the diversity that we see in hospitals. Patients, doctors, visitors and other staff represent every grouping in Israel, Jew, Muslim and Christian, religious and secular, refugee and citizen alike. In Israeli hospitals, there is no “occupier” or “occupied,” only doctors and nurses and those they care for. They can be showcased as a great example of co-existence.
MK Bezalel Smotrich’s comments on the topic represent the very worst of what our society represents, and the medical system, led by the health minister, should make it completely clear that the policy and the spirit of the policy be upheld, not because of universal values, but because we remember as Jews how badly minorities can sometimes be treated. Thankfully, the phenomenon exists only in some, but not, all hospitals, but it is our responsibility to make sure such requests by new mothers are not tolerated anywhere.
One final thought. Having read Smotrich’s tweets and then listened to his wife on the radio, I could not help but remember my wife’s cousin Dr.
Shmuel Gillis, an especially talented doctor adored by his patients. Until he was murdered by Palestinian terrorists in 2001 he was a specialist at Hadassa, one of the hospitals accused of acquiescing to requests for separation. After his murder, it became clear to the general public that Gillis was completely “colorblind.” Like the vast majority of doctors here, he treated Jews and Arabs alike, and following his death, his wife Ruthie told her children that she pities his patients for their loss. To them, he represented hope. In treating his patients, he made no distinction between opinion, religion, or status.
In hospitals and other public places we should learn from professionals like Gillis. Rather than giving in to prejudice and fear we should spread hope and tolerance. I say this not because I am naïve about the threats we face, but because I believe that aside from dealing with our enemies, it is our responsibility to create a society based on the highest Jewish values.
Any other choice grants a victory to the terrorists and their extremist supporters.
The writer is Chairman of Gesher and Managing Partner of Goldrock Capital.