Litzman arranged VIP treatment for top rabbi’s wife at expense of public: report

Deputy health minister said to organize home visits, expedited MRI tests, temporary closure of areas of hospital to treat spiritual leader’s wife; Litzman denies discrimination

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman is seen leaving a meeting in Jerusalem on February 14, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman is seen leaving a meeting in Jerusalem on February 14, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After getting in hot water for allegedly pushing for the falsification of a psychiatric document to help Malka Leifer, as well as allegedly aiding other accused sex abusers, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman was accused Wednesday of pulling strings with senior health officials to benefit a member of his Gur Hasidic sect.

According to a report in the Haaretz daily, the ultra-Orthodox lawmaker and head of the United Torah Judaism party was intensely involved in arranging preferred treatment over many months for Shoshana Alter, the wife of the head of the Gur Hasidic dynasty, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter.

Many top doctors, including chief physicians, were recruited between May 2018 and January 2019 to help treat Alter’s severe and rare health condition with multiple home visits, VIP treatment at hospitals and expedited medical appointments and checks, all allegedly at the expense of ordinary citizens.

The report said that in May, Litzman organized and personally oversaw visits to Alter’s home by senior doctors at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital. When it later became apparent that an MRI test was needed, that was organized within several hours — as opposed to the several weeks most patients have to wait — and the results were also received very quickly.

“The moment she arrived she received service as if she was no less than the country’s president,” Haaretz quoted an unnamed medical official who witnessed the process. “To be clear, no ordinary citizen would have gotten such service, but if Litzman or one of his assistants asked — it’s as if the most important person in the world is calling.”

Another similarly swift process facilitated another MRI test in July. Several sources were cited as saying that every time Alter arrived, she was accompanied by many assistants and Hasidic officials, causing disruptions and temporary closures of entire sections of the Hadassah hospital.

“It was VIP+++ treatment,” the medical official said.

Other hospital officials said Litzman’s office has been making daily special requests directly to the office of Hadassah Ein Kerem’s director, Prof. Yoram Weiss, and other top officials, for preferential treatment to Gur Hasidim. They said the frequency of those phone calls has intensified in the last two years.

One of the sources was quoted as saying that while there haven’t been direct orders to give VIP treatment, “if the deputy health minister calls you, the message is clear: anything the rabbi’s wife or her staff want — they get.”

Aerial view of Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, March 17, 2014. (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

Litzman’s intervention wasn’t limited to Hadassah. The report quoted officials in the Sheba Hospital in Ramat Gan as saying they were accustomed to receiving requests from Litzman and his assistants.

After the doctors decided that Alter had to undergo surgery, a prominent rabbi and medical official, Avraham Elimelech Firer, decided that the procedure would take place at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital and even chose the top surgeon who would perform it, the report said.

During her three-week subsequent hospitalization, Alter was housed alone in a double bedroom, with two other rooms normally used by medical staff occupied by her family and associates, The Marker reported in August.

Afterwards, Alter required another operation and was flown to the United States, where she underwent a successful procedure in January at the New York–Presbyterian Hospital. Last month she returned home and even attended her granddaughter’s wedding.

The Gur leader himself, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, was offered similar VIP treatment a year ago, Haaretz reported, with patients evacuated from three rooms in Hadassah to house him and his associates while at least 30 people were waiting in the emergency room for a hospital bed.

Prof. Zeev Rotstein, CEO of Hadassah Hospital, speaks during a press conference to introduce the new medical team at the hospital’s hemato-oncology department, June 13, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

That too was coordinated by Litzman, who personally chose the room in which Alter would be housed and with full cooperation from Hadassah’s general director, Prof. Zeev Rotstein.

“This is how government corruption looks,” a medical official was quoted as saying. “When it comes to Gur Hasidim and the rabbi’s wife, Litzman is there at every major crossroads. We are used to all sorts of celebrities asking for preferential treatment, but when it comes from a government official like the deputy health minister, you can’t say no.”

Litzman’s office said it could not comment on Alter’s case due to privacy concerns, but stressed that “all the related procedures were taken legally and with special care for good governance rules.”

The statement claimed Litzman helps anyone who contacts his office for help, no matter their religious or other affiliation, and that “attempts to slander Litzman and his office for helping others should be rejected.”

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman at a press conference at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem, on November 21, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Hadassah director general Rotstein reacted by denouncing the “self-righteous attack” on Litzman and his hospital, claiming that all medical centers in Israel have VIP treatment for donors and senior public officials.

“Hadassah is proud of its ability to give the general public world-class medical treatment, while treating VIP patients without it coming at the expense of other patients,” he said.

Sheba and Ichilov refused to comment on the story.

Labor MK Itzik Shmuli commented on the report saying Litzman’s actions were in fact an “admission of his failure” as health minister.

“Due to the huge overcrowding and endless lines in too many cases, the health system under him is providing medical services according to favoritism or private payment abilities, rather than according to medical urgency. This is an embarrassing and disgraceful failure,” Shmuli tweeted.

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