IMA Sickened Over Deputy Health Minister App't

The Israel Medical Association vowed yesterday to continue pushing for the appointment of a full-time health minister following the announcement that MK Yaakov Litzman would be named deputy health minister. The IMA has petitioned the High Court of Justice over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's failure to name a health minister, and protests will begin after the Pesach holiday.

MK Litzman met last night with the Health Ministry's director general, Prof. Avi Arieli. Litzman informed Netanyahu he would assume the post of deputy health minister; his former job, chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, was taken by his rival in United Torah Judaism, MK Moshe Gafni.

Litzman denies the rumor that he agreed to his appointment after Netanyahu promised to name a Litzman loyalist adviser to the prime minister on ultra-Orthodox affairs.

Meanwhile, Dr. Yoram Blachar, chairman of the IMA, said that "we have no problem with MK Litzman, a very experienced man who has served as chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee during the past three Knessets, and has shown to be capable of defending his principles and fighting for them. The problem is that his status will be only that of a deputy minister." That meant, Blachar noted, Litzman could not vote in cabinet meetings and would only be invited to them when matters of health were to be discussed. "He will not be a member of a ministerial committee, and will lack the statutory authority that a minister holds," Blachar added, saying Litzman as a deputy minister will be unable to sign decisions related to his ministry, will not be able to push reforms or order changes, and will be unable to stand up to the treasury's Budgets Division for funding for his ministry.

"The real implication of the appointment of a deputy minister instead is there will be a compete takeover of the Health Ministry by an official from the Budgets Division, who will essentially become the acting health minister, without having been chosen to do so, without taking an oath to the state and without having to assume public responsibility for his actions," Blachar says.

The IMA argued before the High Court that the prime minister is in a conflict of interests because of his other role as super finance minister, essentially depriving the Health Ministry of its right to argue for the need for specific budgets.

"This is an unacceptable situation," Blachar says, "especially when one takes into account that this ministry has the third largest budget in the government. Just as no one would understand the appointment only of a deputy defense minister, or a deputy prime minister instead of a minister."