No Method in the Madness of Israel's Government

Patients may be dying, human rights activists may be terrorized, but the people of Israel live.

There is in our society no comprehensive system, in the full sense of the term: The political system is separated from the health system; the cabinet and the Knesset are separate planets. Any alien who would happen to visit here would draw the conclusion that health matters are handled not by the health system, but rather by the Supreme Court. Patients might be dying, but the people of Israel lives. The hospitals are collapsing, but the government coalition is alive and kicking - and that's what counts. For Benjamin Netanyahu, having a single Yaakov Litzman in hand is worth more than hundreds of men and women physicians who have gone out on a limb, even if the deputy health minister doesn't have a clue as to what the striking doctors want, as he admitted Wednesday in a radio interview.

This week, even the High Court of Justice scolded the government for its handling of the doctors' debacle. The Finance Ministry was of the belief that the crisis had dissipated, that the protesting medical residents had grown weary, even fallen asleep during their long, exhausting hospital shifts. Suddenly, they are arising anew, impatiently throwing off their scrubs and heading home. Their stethoscopes have turned into something that strangles them; they are able neither to do their work or to resign.

Netanyahu illustration.
Amos Biderman

The masterminds who stirred the ill winds against the residents are now absorbing the stormy wrath of the senior physicians. In fact, the forte of Netanyahu and Yuval Steinitz seems to be fanning major fires instead of stamping out small, freshly lit ones.

For its part, the Health Ministry continues to pour fuel on the fire, in a sordid effort to turn hospital directors into stool pigeons. The policy holds that if top docs want to quit, they should be shown the door immediately and never be seen again - and that if the younger physicians resume their protests, bring us their names, and they won't ever return either.

Israel presumably can live without all of these talented, dedicated individuals, but it would collapse were a deputy minister or ministry director general to step down: That would be a fatal calamity in terms of the state's future. Nonetheless, perhaps the time has come to make a decision: Either the Litzmans will suffer immediate injury, or the casualties will have to be the professionals who know how to cure the suffering.

That's the method: Anyone who doesn't blindly heed orders is to be terrorized. The terrorized include outraged activists from human rights organizations and masses of workers. Not far off is the day when one of these crazed Knesset members will sponsor a bill that would literally enchain citizens to their places of work and staple workers' tongues to the roofs of their mouths. That is a proposal the coalition can be expected to support, even while Benny Begin and Dan Meridor will say it isn't a very nice thing to do.

I keep scratching my head, trying to understand the real reason for the government's indifference. How are we to explain this callousness? All sorts of unpleasant thoughts come to mind: Is it possible, I ask myself, that Netanyahu came to the conclusion that neither he himself nor his party have many supporters among the physicians, and that anyway, given the growing alienation in that sector, that number is dwindling. Can this be the explanation?

The government itself is ill; it refuses treatment, and it endangers us all. In order to mitigate our suffering, there is no choice now but to expand the circle of dissent.

Emergency measures are needed to bring the system back to health. Rambam Medical Center, Ichilov Hospital and Sheba Medical Center should assume the unruly posture of those in the Ashdod harbor, the Likud party's traditional port of call. Senior physicians and younger ones, men and women, have now grasped that discussion and negotiations do not lead to much; indeed, such methods also will not lead the ailing senior citizen in the hospital corridor toward the ward for proper treatment.

I should think that the government would be wise to make haste, overcome all that has been said and done, and solve this crisis, before it reaches its crescendo. Soon someone here will be needed to care for all those wounded in the war that was promised us this week in the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The government will tend to the dead on its own.