Deputy Health Minister: Failure to Force-feed Prisoners Undermines Rule of Law in Israel

Cabinet approval of bill to force-feed hunger-striking prisoners ignites dispute between the Health Ministry and the Israeli Medical Association.

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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Former Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman
Former Deputy Health Minister Yaakov LitzmanCredit: Emil Salman
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

The storm over a government-sponsored bill to force-feed hunger-striking prisoners grew on Monday when Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman accused the head of the Israeli Medical Association of "critically undermining the rule of law in Israel."

The bill was approved by the cabinet on Sunday and will now go to the Knesset plenum for its second and third readings, having had its first reading before the March elections.

In response to the cabinet's approval, medical association head Dr. Leonid Eidelman said that the association will advise doctors to ignore the law, if it is passed by the Knesset.

"If the law passes, we'll call on doctors to ignore it," Eidelman said, adding that force-feeding "isn't ethical and requires humiliating means bordering on torture."

Those statements aroused the ire of Litzman, who told the Knesset Health Committee in Monday that Eidelman's statements had "crossed a red line" and were a "public call to defy the law."

"It's a disgrace that a person in a respected public position with great influence over the health system can call for the breaking of the law," the deputy minister said.

"As opposed to Eidelman, I believe that a just and equal medical system requires obedience to the law, while ensuring that ethical values are upheld."

The Medical association has opposed the bill since it was first tabled in the Knesset. Edelman told Haaretz on Monday that force-feeding is nothing less than torture and that medical ethics take priority over the law in such cases.

Force-feeding is mistaken, both as regards the medical benefit it provides and as regards ethics, Edelman added. For that reason he had said that he will call on doctors not to obey the law.

MK Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu) said on Monday that his party would oppose the bill. "Whoever wants to strike, should strike," Lieberman said at a meeting of his party caucus. "It's their lives and their responsibility."

"Anyone who thinks that it doesn't befit a democratic society should learn from what happened to the Irish underground during the time of Margaret Thatcher. What is good for the birthplace of democracy, England, is good for us as well."

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