Critics Say No Reason to Name Hospital for Late Israeli PM Yitzhak Shamir

The Assaf Harofeh hospital in central Israel was named for fifth century C.E. physician Assaf Ben Brachiahu, but he's now been replaced by the two-term Likud premier.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (right) attending the renaming ceremony for the Yizhak Shamir Medical Center, April 4, 2017.
Kobi Gideon/GPO

The decision to rename the Assaf Harofeh Hospital in central Israel after the country’s seventh prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, is proving a bitter pill for some to swallow.

The name of the hospital in Tzifrin was officially changed Tuesday, following a joint decision by the Shamir family, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Begin Heritage Center, which deals with commemorations related to the ex-Likud leader, who died in 2012.

But not everyone was convinced by the move. “As someone who gave to his country for so many years, Yitzhak Shamir deserves commemoration – I have no qualms with that,” media figure Ori Katzir told Haaretz. “But the commemoration should be relevant to the person being commemorated. In that respect, this misses the mark,” he said.

Katzir suggested a more fitting commemoration would have been a project relating to fields in which the two-term prime minister had a real influence, such as the absorption of immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia.

Assaf Harofeh Hospital was originally named, in 1952, after the fifth century C.E. Jewish physician Assaf Ben Brachiahu (aka “Assaf the doctor”).

At the ceremony, hospital director Dr. Benny Davidson acknowledged it was “no small matter to change the name of a medical center after more than 65 years.”

While he recognized that the renaming would “certainly be liable to arouse sorrow among the veterans of the institution,” he cautioned that the “sorrow must be mixed with joy, and pride that we are worthy of commemorating the name of a prime minister of Israel.”

Davidson added that, for him, the hospital was connected to Shamir’s legacy. “From now on, the tradition of human love, professional integrity and medical ethics that are the cornerstones of the Hebrew doctor’s oath in the Land of Israel – written by Assaf Ben Brachiahu 1,400 years ago – will be connected to the ... integrity and love of the land that were among Shamir’s outstanding features.”

But one senior official in the field, who asked to remain anonymous, said that memorialization is no guarantee of preserving a legacy.

“Most of the residents of Israel don’t know who Assaf Harofeh is, even decades after the hospital had been named after him. If someone wants his legacy to remain, something has to be done beyond [just renaming a] building,” he said.

“Commemoration of Shamir should also be made in other aspects, not only in the naming of a structure,” he added.