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Israeli Arab doctors announced on Thursday that they are considering resigning from the Clalit HMO, and establishing a clinical system catering exclusively to the Arab sector. The doctors charged that Clalit operated discriminately by failing to promote Arab doctors to senior positions.

Currently, there is not a single Israeli Arab employed in any of the 84 senior positions at Clalit, including department heads, regional managing doctors and deputy directors.

Clalit has some 7,000 Israeli Arab workers and some 800,000 Israeli Arab members.

Clalit filled five senior positions on Wednesday: director of the Haifa and western Galilee districts, northern district director, director of the Petah Tikva and Dan districts, director of the southern district and deputy accountant general for the HMO. Arab employees who were expecting to be promoted were once again disappointed to find that not a single Israeli Arab was appointed to any of the positions.

The failure to appoint Israeli Arabs sparked rage and frustration, which the employees said had been building for years. "This is discrimination; There's not another word to describe it," said one of the Arab doctors, who maintained anonymity for fear of being dismissed.

"The Arab workers are advancing to intermediate positions and hitting a glass ceiling. They just get stuck in a job for years and are not promoted. The Clalit management is aware of this situation, and at times expresses the need to make changes, but nothing ever gets done," he said.

Another doctor said that "in the past, they have admitted that women and Arabs were discriminated against. Since then, Clalit has been wise enough to promote dozens of women, but not a single Arab. What Clalit is communicating is that Arabs are not sufficiently qualified to serve in senior posts. So, Clalit hasn't been able to produce any Arab professional capable of manning a senior position? District directors and hospital directors working today went to school with us. We all have the same education and the same skills. How are they better than us?"

As a result, several Arab doctors are considering splintering off from Clalit, and joining a competing HMO in efforts to establish a subsidiary which would be identified with and cater to the Arab sector.

"We are currently in negotiations with one of the HMOs," said the Israeli Arab doctor.

"The Arab sector is profitable. It's a young public and most of the services are far from (Arab) towns. We hope that we can draw insured Arabs to us from the established HMO's."

Clalit issued a statement saying "The voiced claims are untrue and are an injustice to the candidates and to Clalit."

"The appointments at Clalit are carried out according to considerable professional interest. It's a shame that interest groups are trying to assemble because of a (disagreeable) decision, seemingly out of foreign and not material considerations," the statement read.

"We are working to fill positions, including senior positions, with people from every sector."