Medical society heads warn judicial overhaul will harm Israeli healthcare

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The heads of Israeli medical societies on Friday urged the government to abandon the judicial overhaul, warning it would adversely impact healthcare in Israel.

In a joint letter, dozens of doctors voiced concern over “the intensifying erosion process of democratic characteristics and public order in Israel” while stressing their opposition to legislation that would bar courts from exercising judicial review over the “reasonableness” of government decisions.

“Cancelling the reasonableness doctrine — on which many principles in medical care, management and ethics are based — may allow arbitrary and unreasoned decision-making, with conflicts of interest and thus harm the quality of medical care and proper administration,” they wrote.

The doctors said that as medical practitioners they were obliged to protect human rights, dignity and health “regardless of ethnicity, gender, age or socio-economic group.”

“A democratic regime, including an independent and strong judicial system, decentralized political power and criticism by independent experts, are essential conditions for achieving the goals of medicine, its continued existence and prosperity,” they said. “Democracy is a universal value and is not a political and partisan asset and cannot be sliced to pieces.”

Reiterating their commitment to these principles, the doctors warned there was already “initial evidence” of harm to the Israeli healthcare system, without elaborating.

“We are against any legislation that harms these foundations and we will act to prevent in every legal and appropriate way,” they concluded.

Hagai Levine (Screen capture: YouTube)

Among the signatories were several doctors who rose to national prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic, including Dr. Hagai Levine, chairman of the Israel Association of Public Health Physicians, and Dr. Galia Rahav, head of the Israeli Association for Infectious Diseases.

The doctors did not mention any actions they may take if the legislation moves ahead.

In late March, the health sector joined a day-long general strike against the coalition’s judicial plans, at the end of which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he was freezing the legislation to allow for talks with the opposition.

Galia Rahav, head of the Israeli Association for Infectious Diseases in Tel Aviv on June 22, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The warning of the harm to the medical sector joins similar warnings issued by high-tech workers, economists, lawyers and military officials, all cautioning that the legislation — if passed — would harm Israel’s democracy, economy and security.

The letter by the medical society chairs followed a warning by hundreds of military doctors on Sunday that unilateral move by the government to pass the overhaul “will lead to drastic and unilateral measures by the reservist doctors.”

The renewed warnings came as Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee held deliberations on the so-called reasonableness bill, formally restarting the government’s push to radically remake the judicial system. In response, protest organizers have vowed to ramp up demonstrations.

Reasonableness has been the primary judicial check against appointments and was used earlier this year to remove Shas leader Aryeh Deri from twin cabinet postings — as minister of health and the interior — citing his recent tax offenses and past bribery conviction, and his commitment to quit the Knesset as part of a plea bargain.

Rather than merely tighten the conditions under which courts could evaluate the reasonableness of a government decision, the coalition proposal seeks to completely remove court oversight over a range of decisions made by potentially any elected official.

The court would still be able to use the reasonableness test against decisions made by non-elected officials and would be able to apply other judicial and statutory tests, where applicable.

The bill was prioritized by the coalition shortly after opposition lawmakers withdrew from judicial reform compromise talks following a stymied election of MKs to the Judicial Selection Committee earlier this month. Opposition lawmakers have warned that without the reasonableness protection, the government would be able to fire the attorney general and appoint personal cronies in her place.

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