Doctors Step Up Protest With Mass March, Hunger Strike as Court Nixes Injunction

Striking doctors intensified their protest yesterday in the wake of the Labor Court’s decision not to issue injunctions against them.

The chairman of the Israel Medical Association, Dr. Leonid Eidelman, announced that he was beginning a hunger strike “until the end of the struggle.” Also yesterday, doctors began a three-day protest march from the Ramat Gan headquarters of the IMA to the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, where they plan to present Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a petition calling on him to save public medicine. Tens of thousands of doctors and ordinary citizens have signed the petition over the last few months.

Doctor Strike - Nir Kafri - 26072011
Nir Kafri

Meanwhile, a young doctors’ group, set up last week following the spontaneous protest of interns and specialists, held two protests yesterday and said that it planned to step up its activities in the coming days.

The group is also planning to join Eidelman on his hunger strike and to present letters of resignation en masse to hospitals.

Early Monday morning, the Labor Court rejected the state’s request for injunctions against the striking doctors as well as the state’s demand for forced arbitration.

The judges, headed by the court’s president, Nili Arad, wrote that “we have reached the conclusion that at this time... the work stoppages by the Israel Medical Association are within the standards of reason and proportionality and that no injunctions should be issued to prevent them.”

The decision constitutes a victory for the IMA, which decided to intensify the measures it has adopted in the strike, now in its 16th week.

At a press conference yesterday at IMA headquarters, Eidelman listed the doctors’ demands since the negotiations entered an impasse over the weekend. He included the latest demands of the young interns and specialists and said that “there is an immediate need for an additional 1,000 doctors’ positions, a lessening of shifts for interns,to six per month, an immediate handling of the specializations that will very soon have no doctors filling them, attracting doctors to the periphery, and attracting young students to the medical profession by raising the wages of doctors by 50 percent per hour.”

Eidelman, 59, added that he began an unlimited hunger strike yesterday morning, but urged other doctors not to join him yet.

“It may be that the struggle will last a long time, and it may be that in several days I will not be able to continue the hunger strike, and then I will turn to other doctors to continue along this path,” he said.

Eidelman led the march yesterday, from Ramat Gan to Jerusalem, which began with 15 people, walking in small groups, according to police instructions, so as not interfere with traffic. They carried signs and wore shirts with the slogan, “Save Public Medicine.”

The marchers stopped to spend the night at Kfar Chabad, and will continue today until they reach the Latrun interchange, reaching Jerusalem on Thursday. They will be met at the Jerusalem International Convention Center ‏(Binyanei HaUma‏) by doctors from all over Israel who will join them in the march to the Prime Minister’s Office. Eidelman said he would set up a protest tent there and would stay there until the end of the crisis.

The IMA chairman said he was willing to meet with representatives of the Finance Ministry if they agree to “negotiate, or even to join the march and discuss it with me at the side of the road.”

Sources at the Finance Ministry were critical of the protest march which they say enables the doctors to ignore the negotiations. The IMA responded that “we are interested in intensive negotiations any day or hour the Treasury wishes.” According to Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen ‏(Shas‏), “the failure of the leadership of the doctors resulted in the managers of the big hospitals in central Israel, who are interested in private medicine, dictating the agenda in the IMA.”

Court rejects residents’ request

The Labor Court yesterday rejected a request by the medical residents union to join the negotiations between the treasury and Israeli Medical Association as a separate group.

Later yesterday the IMA’s strike committee decided to join forces with the residents for a more effective protest.

Deputy IMA chairman Dr. Israel Eilig said: “Our joint goal is to save medicine and the doctors in Israel, for the benefit of the public.”

Dr. Aviv Shaul, a resident at Beilinson Hospital’s internal ward, said “the Health Ministry and treasury failed to drive a wedge between the residents and the IMA. We are united.”

The residents yesterday presented Eidelman with the demands they had formulated on Sunday. Eidelman adopted most of them in the speech he gave at the press conference.

“We have two additional demands − shortening the agreement’s term and not putting residents on extended on-call shifts,” Shaul said at the press conference. “The residents are acting responsibly, obeying the law and intend to take part in the struggle.”

He also said the residents were considering joining the IMA chairman’s fast.