Israeli Emergency Medical Service Hired Private Detectives in Attempt to Defame Rival

United Hatzalah hired a private firm to surveil two senior officials at the Health Ministry, as well as their siblings and spouses, in an attempt to uncover personal ties to figures at Magen David Adom

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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United Hatzalah paramedics.
United Hatzalah paramedics.Credit: United Hatzalah
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Private ambulance service United Hatzalah hired detectives to follow two senior figures at the Health Ministry and their relatives, in an attempt to uncover conflicts of interest in the ministry’s contacts with employees of the state ambulance service, Magen David Adom. The two rescue organizations are mired in an ongoing conflict, fighting each other for funds, volunteers and prestige.

Information obtained by Haaretz shows that in June 2018, United Hatzalah members hired a private detective firm to covertly surveil the then-head of the rescue services field at the Health Ministry, Miri Cohen, and then-senior coordinator of planning and budgeting at the deputy director-general’s office, David Azulay. The investigation lasted about a month and a half and included background checks, surveillance and use of electronic surveillance devices in an attempt to uncover personal relations with figures at Magen David Adom.

Other than Cohen and Azulay, the researchers also followed their siblings, spouses and nephews. United Hatzalah sought to locate evidence of conflicts of interests such as gifts received, informal meetings or relatives employed at the ministry. At the end of the investigation, United Hatzalah received a report including personal data about those close to Cohen and Azulay, which included ID numbers, past and present employers, criminal background checks and repossession files.

During the investigation, relatives of Cohen and Azulay were harassed repeatedly by telephone. The use of investigators to surveil public officials marks a nadir in the rivalry between the two ambulance organizations. In July 2017 the Health Ministry published guidelines to regulate the work arrangements and cooperation between the two. The regulation stated that the on-call crews of United Hatzalah would be operated by Magen David Adom’s national hotline, which would dispatch the crews closest to the scene, regardless of affiliation. Further, it was determined that United Hatzalah would cease advertising its own hotline, and that Magen David Adom would develop an app to act as a combined hotline for both organizations.

As part of their duties, Azulay and Cohen were responsible for monitoring and oversight of both organizations. Despite the agreements, the Health Ministry did not properly enforce the work regulations. Magen David Adom did not develop a joint app, and United Hatzalah continued to operate an independent hotline. A source told Haaretz that the two would make frequent inspections at the organizations’ headquarters, particularly Azulay, a former volunteer and employee at Magen David Adom. According to the source, United Hatzalah felt that Health Ministry personnel were biased in favor of MDA.

“There was great tension at that time,” the source says, adding that United Hatzalah president Eli Beer was convinced that there were improper relations between ministry personnel and Magen David Adom. “The organization’s people were very frustrated. Appeals by United Hatzalah about complaints and improprieties at Magen David Adom went unaddressed, like they were invisible. On the other hand, every complaint by MDA against United Hatzalah was met with an immediate response.” He says that this frustration led to the hiring of the private investigators.

In July 2021, a court ruled that United Hatzalah and its principals ran a premeditated and methodical campaign to malign Magen David Adom, publishing ads reading, “MDA’s monopoly kills.” The organization was sentenced to pay damages in the sum of 250,000 shekels ($72,250).

United Hatzalah declined comment on the issues raised here, responding only, “All of United Hatzalah’s activities are aimed solely at saving lives through 6,200 volunteers who treat 700,000 sick and wounded people annually. Our full cooperation with the Health Ministry and the professional staff allows United Hatzalah to continue its activity, and we give thanks for that.”

The Health Ministry said in response that “if it is proved that a healthcare organization hired a private investigation firm against state officials, surveilled their movements and harassed their families, the Health Ministry will view this with great severity. Such conduct, if proved, marks the crossing of a red line, and the ministry intends to deal with the matter with all legal tools at its disposal, including an immediate complaint to the Israel Police to investigate the matter to the fullest.”

Miri Cohen and David Azulay declined comment.

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