Top Health Ministry official beseeches doctors considering leaving Israel to remain

WhatsApp group of medical workers seeking relocation advice has attracted some 3,000 since Knesset passed first overhaul law Monday, prompting emergency meeting

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov at a press conference about the coronavirus COVID-19, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2020. (Flash90)
File: Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov at a press conference about the coronavirus COVID-19, at the Prime Ministers office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2020. (Flash90)

Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov on Wednesday held an emergency meeting with doctors, after thousands expressed interest in relocating abroad due to the government’s efforts to curtail the country’s judiciary.

Bar Siman-Tov urged doctors not to “give up” on Israel’s public health system and instead stay and play a role in setting the rules under which it operates, in a meeting over Zoom with ScienceAbroad, an organization working to return Israeli scientists from overseas.

“I know that there are many walking around today with very difficult feelings, and it’s understandable. Instinctive responses to the issue are also understandable. Having said that, everyone also knows that we don’t have another country or health system,” he said

“I really think that nobody among us has the privilege to give up, not on the country and not on the system. We are the foundation of societal solidarity in Israel and show that it’s possible to live, work and receive care together,” he added.

A WhatsApp group for doctors seeking advice for relocating overseas was opened after the Knesset passed a law to limit court oversight of the government Monday, and has so far attracted some 3,000 physicians.

Bar Siman-Tov said public health workers have significant independence in their duties in Israel, which should give them a reason to remain.

File: Doctors demonstrate against the judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv on July 18, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)

“Don’t give up on [the health system] and don’t go to other systems. Stay here and you will be part of setting the rules by which it operates. The health minister was updated about this meeting and we are committed to you, to ensuring your ability to continue to make the right decisions, and to prevent as much as possible the background noise and disputes in Israeli society from affecting the way the system works,” he said.

Dr. Matan Bar Yishai, a family doctor from the Maccabi healthcare service who has decided to relocate to New Zealand, told the Walla news site: “I am very sorry to everyone for the decision I made. I really love the country and my patients, but in the end, it is a family decision.”

Bar Yishai said he was unable to raise his family here in the current situation, fearing that the overhaul “will harm the country and the health [system].”

The Israel Medical Association staged a single-day strike Tuesday, leaving public health facilities with skeleton staffing in response to the passage of the law that ended courts’ ability to strike down cabinet and ministerial decisions based on their “reasonableness.”

A labor court ordered the healthcare industry back to work in the late afternoon — too late to make a difference for outpatient health clinics, which would had ended their workday by the time it was issued.

Public health workers have warned that the government’s judicial overhaul proposals will have negative consequences on their profession.

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