Israeli Ministry Summons Hospitals Accused of Operating Segregated Maternity Wards

Health Ministry issues statement stressing that it doesn’t accept practice of placing expectant Jewish and Arab moms in separate rooms.

The maternity ward at Ichilov Hospital, Tel Aviv.
Dan Keinan

The Health Ministry has called a meeting with the heads of all hospitals that allegedly separate Jews and Arabs in maternity wards, to remind them that this violates state regulations.

The ministry announced the meeting, which was called by director general Moshe Bar Siman Tov, in a press statement on Thursday.

The issue arose after Israel Radio reported earlier this week that at several hospitals throughout the country, maternity ward staffers assign Jewish and Arab women to separate rooms. This is either of their own initiative or at the women’s request.

The hospitals in question included both branches of Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Hospital (Ein Karem and Mount Scopus), Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital and Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava.

The hospitals denied that they separate Jews and Arabs of their own initiative, but some said they would do so if the women requested it.

“At hospitals, health maintenance organizations, public health offices, well-baby clinics and emergency services, people from every segment of society work alongside each other on medical teams and receive medical treatment alongside each other,” the ministry said in its statement. “That is how the strength of the medical system is expressed. The Health Ministry once again stresses that it does not accept any separation for discriminatory reasons.”

The Israel Radio report sparked a media uproar, which escalated after MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) said it was natural for his wife not to want to be put next to an Arab mother. In response, the Health Ministry began examining previous reports about separation between Jews and Arabs in maternity wards and decided to summon the heads of all hospitals that have reportedly countenanced such separation.

These include Soroka Medical Center, Be’er Sheva; Hillel Yaffeh Medical Center, Hadera; and Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Jerusalem.

Responses from the broader medical establishment this week have ranged from denunciation to sweeping denial that maternity-ward segregation exists. Officially, such separation is strictly forbidden.

Nevertheless, as Haaretz reported this week, it has been common practice for many years – especially at hospitals located in mixed Jewish-Arab cities. Maternity ward staffers will often put Jewish and Arab mothers in different rooms while doctors and administrators turn a blind eye.

Many hospitals see this as part of their effort to provide comfortable conditions for new mothers. Maternity is a lucrative business for the hospitals, since the state pays them thousands of shekels for every birth.