An administrative petition was filed on Thursday against the Kfar Sava municipality, the municipal company in charge of billboard content and Meir Hospital after a billboard message calling on Dr. Eitan Wertheim, the hospital’s director, to desist from segregating Jewish and non-Jewish women in maternity wards was removed.
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The social movement Zazim Community Action and Physicians for Human Rights, who filed the petition, are demanding that the instructions given by the municipality to the signage company to remove the sign be reversed since it “offended the public.” The two groups paid thousands of shekels to erect their sign for 20 days, but it was removed after only one day. Over the past two weeks similar billboards have been erected close to Shaare Tzedek and Hadassah hospitals in Jerusalem, where no opposition has been encountered.
“The plaintiffs assembled resources and funds for the purpose of erecting these signs in public places,” reads the petition. “These were obtained through small donations from many citizens who wished to express their protest over such segregation. Taking the sign down directly offends these donors. This is an unlawful decision, unauthorized and unreasonable.”
The Kfar Sava municipality says that the billboard was taken down at the request of many residents who approached city hall, claiming that their feelings were hurt by the sign. Despite requests by Haaretz and Kfar Sava city councilor Eli Harsegor, the municipality would not produce these complaints.
“There are no documents since all the complaints were made by phone to the municipal spokesman’s office and the signage company,” the city’s general manager Oshrat Ganei-Gonen told Harsegor a few days after he made his request.
“It would be better if, instead of denying the existence of this problem, which has been documented on numerous occasions, hospital directors took immediate action to stop the segregation in their hospitals,” says Raluca Ganea, the executive director of Zazim Community Action. “Instead, we have to turn to the courts in order to protect the freedom of expression of activists who paid for the sign with their own money. The Kfar Sava municipality thinks it’s protecting the hospital. In practice, even if unintentionally, it’s protecting the practice of segregation, thus offending both Jews and Arabs. We’ll continue to fight this decision and the segregation of women giving birth.”
The petition also addresses freedom of expression. “The plaintiffs are conducting their anti-segregation campaign in a democratic and legal manner, trying to bring the issue to public awareness, among other methods through signs on billboards. This issue addresses a humane demand to prevent racism and segregation on hospital grounds. Freedom of expression is meant to also protect non-mainstream opinions, ones that may evoke anger or opposition, opinions expressed on the background of current events.”
Physicians for Human Rights added that “the Kfar Sava municipality removed the sign but not the problem of racism. Precisely because of the status of hospitals in our society, they cannot become a space that succumbs to prevailing racist winds, but should rather confront these. It’s our duty to act and protest this state of affairs with all the means at our disposal.”