Thousands of Doctors Descend on Jerusalem to Protest Public Health Salaries

Doctors, medical students gather near Knesset as the Israeli parliament is scheduled to discuss stalled salary talks between public health physicians and Finance Ministry.

About 3,000 doctors and medical students are descending on Jerusalem's Rose Garden opposite the Knesset on Wednesday for a mass demonstration supporting doctors' demands in negotiations with the Finance Ministry.

The rally was organized to coincide with a Knesset discussion on the ongoing attempt to strike a deal between doctors and Foreign Ministry officials.

Haaretz was informed on Tuesday that medical students from all four medical schools in the country would also be arriving at the protest after classes were cancelled for the day.

Speaking before the rally, Kadima chairperson Tzipi Livni said she "came here to partake in the most worthy of struggles."

"This fight is for the future of public medicine in the State of Israel, and public medicine means the right of every Israeli citizen for proper and deserving care," the opposition leader said.

"The kind of care that prolongs life, that saves life, and of the kind you know to provide, if only the government provided you with the tools to do so," she added.

Speaking of the rally, Dr. Leonid Eidelman, chairman of the Israeli Medical Association, said it was organized to "protest the lack of progress [in talks with the state] and is another attempt to move the wheels of negotiations forward and to find solutions to save the imploding public health system."

While IMA officials made it clear that the protest was not a strike in any way, many doctors are expected to leave their workplaces to attend the rally, which could postpone some nonemergency procedures in some of the public medical institutions.

Kadima MK Rachel Adato, one of the Knesset discussion's initiators, said that "the government's indifference in the face of systematic issues plaguing the public health establishment and the Finance Ministry's attempt to spin the issue regarding the doctors' salaries and separating residents from interns will also result in a desertion of public health in favor of private medicine, aggravate the deep crisis in doctors' salaries and hurt the system's excellent abilities."

Doctors protest
Orit Stern-Ben Tovim

Haaretz learned on Wednesday of a new initiative to include the doctors employed by the Meuhedet HMO to the collective bargaining agreement advocated by the IMA, and include them in the struggle.

As of now, the IMA is negotiating on behalf of 17,000 doctors employed in governmental hospitals, the Clalait and Leumit HMOs as well as the Jerusalem NGO-owned hospitals such as Bikur Holim, Shaare Zedek Medical Center, and Hadassah University Hospital.

According to one affiliated official, "Meuhedet's inclusion in the negotiations' process would further strengthen the doctors' position," adding that "the more doctors' come together the greater the combined force will be."

In response to the report, a statement by Mehuedet said that the HMO "respects its doctors and does not interfere in their right to unionize."