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Doctors expected to back second strike in protest of judicial reform

Israeli hospitals and clinics would operate on a weekend schedule, only providing urgent care.

Hadassah-Ein Kerem Medical Center in Jerusalem. Photo by Moshe Shai/Flash90.
Hadassah-Ein Kerem Medical Center in Jerusalem. Photo by Moshe Shai/Flash90.

The Israel Medical Association, which claims to represent over 90% of physicians in the country, on Thursday voiced support for “extensive steps,” including another general strike, in protest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to reform the judicial system.

However, a final decision on the strike proposal will be taken on Monday, the organization’s secretariat said.

Meanwhile, leaders of the anti-reform protest movement announced on Thursday they will hold another “Day of Resistance” on Monday, July 17.

If the doctors’ strike is approved, hospitals and health clinics across the Jewish state will operate on a reduced weekend schedule, only providing urgent and life-saving care.

“We don’t want to get to the point where it’s too late and we haven’t done anything,” one of the secretariat members told Israel Hayom on Thursday, adding that the government intends to “dismantle all the centers of power and the unions.”

In a letter distributed ahead of the discussion, hundreds of doctors called on association chairman Professor Zion Hagay to declare a strike “until the coup is completely shelved.”

“A few days of suffering now are preferable to eras of third-world medicine as is customary in non-democratic regimes. We will not be like the scientific and educated intellectuals of Germany in 1933. … We will not remain silent,” the missive continued.

Overnight Monday, Israel’s governing coalition passed in first reading a bill that would limit the Supreme Court’s authority to use the “reasonableness” standard. MK Simcha Rothman, chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, said he would immediately prepare the bill for the two additional plenum votes necessary for it to become law.

The legislation would bar “reasonableness” as a legal justification for judges to reverse decisions made by the Cabinet, ministers and “other elected officials as set by law.”

Critics say the standard is legally vague and the court has used it to encroach upon the government’s authority. The proposed reform “isn’t the end of democracy, but rather will strengthen democracy,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said.

However, opponents claim the bill would erode Israel’s system of checks and balances and lead to an abuse of power, with opposition leader Yair Lapid accusing Netanyahu’s coalition of “losing all restraint.”

On March 27, the announcement of a nationwide worker walkout by the powerful Histadrut labor federation set off a cascade of similar announcements, including an almost complete shutdown of the medical system.

Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan suggested canceling the medical licenses of the “vicious” doctors who participated in the strike.

Earlier this week, opposition parties called for the resumption of compromise talks, a sentiment echoed by Economy Minister Nir Barkat of Likud, who nonetheless noted that “it was the opposition that left the room” in the first place.

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