Doctor convicted of owning child porn to supervise student health services
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Education minister vows to prevent man from entering schools

Doctor convicted of owning child porn to supervise student health services

Court rules that Avraham Barkai can visit schools but not treat children, as enough time has passed since his 2011 conviction on possession, distribution of 190,000 illegal images

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Avraham Barkai in the Haifa Magistrate's Court on May 12, 2012. (Screen capture/Channel 12)
Avraham Barkai in the Haifa Magistrate's Court on May 12, 2012. (Screen capture/Channel 12)

A pediatrician who was convicted of possessing and distributing some 190,000 child pornography videos and images can serve as a medical supervisor at the Health Ministry’s student health services department, a court ruled last week.

Avraham Barkai will be able to pay visits to schools but not treat children in his new position, which a panel of judges at the Nazareth Regional Labor Court determined that he should be allowed to fill, going against the recommendation of the Civil Service Commission.

Barkai was convicted in 2011 of being part of an international child pornography distribution ring and later sentenced to 18 months behind bars. However, the punishment was reduced on appeal to six months of community service, a nine-month suspended sentence and a NIS 20,000 ($5,690) fine.

For over a year up to his conviction, but after he had already been charged, Barkai continued to practice at a Haifa clinic of the Meuhedet HMO after a Health Ministry disciplinary committee ruled that he could continue to see children as long as a parent or nurse was in the room.

The disciplinary committee went on to rule that despite the charges, Barkai did not pose a danger to children as he had not been accused of physical acts against minors. As a result, it ruled that the pediatrician’s license should only be stripped for two years, and by July 2013 Barkai got his license back.

Avraham Barkai. (Israeli Medical Association)

Since then, Barkai had sought unsuccessfully to apply to various posts. In one instance, he won a tender for a position as a physician mother and child clinic in Haifa, but the Civil Service Commission interfered, stating that he did not have the necessary authorization. In 2017, he won a tender for the same position in Netanya, but was eventually disqualified after it was discovered that he had neglected to reveal that he was a convicted sex offender.

However, senior officials in the Health Ministry have come to Barkai’s defense. In 2014, the Health Ministry’s senior vice president of Administration and Human Resources, Dov Passat, submitted a letter to the disciplinary committee asserting that there should be nothing preventing Barkai from applying for tenders for positions as a pediatrician. The letter was submitted by Barkai as an official position of the Health Ministry to the Petah Tivka Magistrate’s Court, which ruled in 2018 that he be granted an exemption from the ban on employing convicted sex offenders as he does not pose a risk to the public, even if he works as a pediatrician.

In late 2018, a medical board voted unanimously to award Barkai a position as medical supervisor at the Health Ministry’s student health services department in the northern district. The Civil Service Commission subsequently interfered and blocked the appointment, stating in a 2019 hearing that “while the job at hand does not require clinical care for children, its core is oversight of student services and some of its assignments take place on school grounds and during the school day… Taking into account the nature of the offenses of which Dr. Barkai was convicted, [granting him this position] can greatly damage the image of the Civil Service Commission and the public’s confidence in its institutions.”

Barkai appealed the decision to the Nazareth Regional Labor Court, which overturned the ruling last week. The panel led by Judge Orit Jacobs determined that enough time had passed since the crimes (which had taken place over a span of 15 years, according to the 2011 indictment) and that the Civil Service Commission’s argument that allowing Barkai to return to work would damage its public image should not have been part of its consideration when it stripped him of the position.

Baby-doll protest outside the Health Ministry’s offices in Jerusalem over Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman’s alleged aid to suspected child sex abusers, March 4, 2019. The sign reads, “Litzman, protect the children, not the abusers!” (Screen capture/Channel 13)

The court ruled that Barkai had shown “regret for his actions and understanding of their impurity,” and ordered the Civil Service Commission to compensate Barkai with NIS 11,000 ($3,125) to cover the doctor’s legal expenses.

Responding to the ruling on Wednesday, Education Minister Rafi Peretz issued a statement declaring that “an individual convicted of sex crimes will not enter the gates of any educational institution, period. I am working with the Health Ministry and Justice Ministry to verify this.”

The National Council for the Child called the labor court’s ruling “scandalous,” adding that it sends a seriously problematic and offensive message to minors who are victims of sex crimes as well as to sex offenders. “It is intolerable that a government office [the Health Ministry] is seeking to approve the appointment of a person convicted of possessing child pornographic images to be in some way or another responsible for the physical and mental health of children,” the group said.

Asked to respond to the criticism against the ruling, a spokesman for the Health Ministry told The Times of Israel that his office was “reviewing the decision together with the Civil Service Commission,” but did not comment further.

The Health Ministry has come under fire in the past year due to allegations that now outgoing Health Minister Yaakov Litzman pressured state psychiatrists to change their medical opinions to deem alleged serial pedophile Malka Leifer unfit for extradition to Australia, where she is wanted on 74 charges of child sex abuse.

Following the fury of reactions on Wednesday, Civil Service commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz filed a request to the State Prosecutor’s Office asking it to appeal the labor court’s decision.

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