Director of Israel's Health Ministry Submits Resignation Amid Coronavirus Crisis

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Benjamin Netanyahu, Moshe Bar Siman Tov and Minister Yaakov Litzman during a press conference on the coronavirus outbreak, November 3, 2020.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Moshe Bar Siman Tov and Minister Yaakov Litzman during a press conference on the coronavirus outbreak, November 3, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman Tov has submitted his resignation, he said Tuesday. Bar Siman Tov has led the ministry's response to the coronavirus crisis in Israel.

Bar Simon Tov said in a letter submitted to Prime Minister and Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman that he will step down when the new government is sworn in, which is scheduled to take place on Thursday. He added that he was willing to remain in the role for a transition period if necessary.

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"I am proud of my years as the director, and specifically dealing with the coronavirus crisis," he said. "I will remain for the necessary transition period to pass the torch in an organized manner, and wish the next health minister and director-general luck."

In his letter of resignation, Bar Siman Tov praised the country's response to the coronavirus outbreak, but also warned against complacency. "We must not take these accomplishments for granted," he wrote. "The work is not yet finished. Israel bought previous time to prepare for a possible second wave of the virus, and the health system is overburdened even in normal times. We must take advantage of this period to continue and improve preparing and strengthening the [healthcare] system for the challenges to come."

Moshe Bar Siman Tov at the Prime Minister's Office. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Bar Siman Tov, 44, entered the role in July 2015 after serving in several roles in the Finance Ministry, where he dealt partly with budgets for the healthcare system. He was tapped for his current role by Litzman, and was the first Health Ministry director general who was not a doctor. The Israel Medical Association opposed his appointment, going so far as to petition the High Court of Justice.

One complaint that came up repeatedly from sources throughout his tenure as that he was not sufficiently attentive to the needs of the ministry's professional experts, and was not open to dialogue or criticism. Sources alleged that his management style was to surround himself with professionals who conformed to his positions. A 2018 investigative report by Haaretz yielded several claims of problems in the ministry: interpersonal tensions and harassment, an uncomfortable atmosphere and managerial issues that they blamed on him.

All this came as a series of senior employees resigned – some of them allegedly because of conditions in the office. "There were people in the ministry who at first got along with Bar Siman Tov, but the moment they showed they were steadfast in their professional opinion, that was the point when he turned against them," said one former ministry official.

"I can understand him," said a source in the healthcare system of Bar Siman Tov's resignation, explaining that working with a new minister can be "traumatic."

"You don't know whether the minister is interested or uninterested [in working with you]. It's not an easy feeling – especially after a very difficult, intense period." During Bar Siman Tov's long, five-year term, the source said, "there were both accomplishments and mistakes.

"The coronavirus accomplishment was the great one in historical perspective," the source said, "a crisis that required great decisions. And the decisions he took were worthy, in the sense that this should have been the Health Ministry's stance."

Aside from the coronavirus period, the source mentioned healthcare reforms that took place during Bar Siman Tov's tenure, such as the promotion of public health and nutrition. "Overall, he is a smart, hardworking man who made achievements, but like everyone, also made mistakes."

Shai Babad and Minister Moshe Kahlon in September, 2019.Credit: Emil Salman

The Finance Ministry's director general, Shai Babad, has also announced he plans to step down after the new government is sworn in. A ministry statement released Monday said Babad had notified Yisrael Katz, who will replace Moshe Kahlon as Israel's finance chief, of his intent to resign. The two agreed that the exact date of his departure would be agreed upon at a later time.

Babad took the post five years ago, when Kahlon as appointed finance minister. Babad had expressed his wish to step down in recent months, but delayed his announcement a few times due to the political crisis and the coronavirus outbreak.

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