On Sunday, the ministerial legislative committee authorized the passage to the Knesset of a law that will, if passed, bring to an end a long-standing struggle between MDA and other emergency response organizations, establishing a single call center for MDA, United Hatzalah, and others. The law is being promoted by Yamina MK Idit Silman.
Now that the law has passed in committee, it will proceed to the Knesset for a preliminary vote, with the support of the Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz.
MDA is opposed to the law, arguing that sharing a call center with United Hatzalah will lead to less professional standards. United Hatzalah, for its part, accuses MDA of long response times and of failing to pass on details of health events to other rescue organizations, even though MDA is required to do so. Both issues, United Hatzalah claims, have led to loss of life in the past.
Speaking during the committee debate, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar noted that the Health Minister is not keen on instituting what he called “dramatic” changes during an epidemic. “We discussed it this morning and I can’t claim that we reached an agreement. All we really agreed on was that the law can proceed to a preliminary vote, with the agreement of the Prime Minister and the Health Minister; following that, it will be referred back here before a first reading and the law will only advance with the agreement of the Health Ministry. This seems to me a balanced approach between the fundamental wish to support it and the wish of the Health Minister to avoid getting into the issue during the current [coronavirus] wave.”
According to a report on Channel 13 News, several other ministers also interjected their points of view.
“I want to address the likely consequences of this – the likelihood of the Red Cross expelling MDA from the organization,” said Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton. “I’m not convinced we want that to happen. It would be a good idea to bring the organizations here and listen to what they have to say. And another thing: MDA has an application that incorporates all the various health services. I think we need to listen to all the various points of view and get a good grasp of what the consequences might be, so that we don’t get into a situation of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.”
Treasury minister Hamad Amar added that, “This is a sensitive time right now – I think we should postpone this for another two weeks.”
Absorption Minister Penina Tamano-Shatta agreed, saying, “I think it’s less appropriate to start meddling during a crisis when things seem to be functioning well. All the same, I do support this law that the coalition chair is proposing – she is working hard for all of us and that’s why I support the compromise proposed by the committee chair.”
Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg then said, “I have a message from the Health Minister saying that he would like to postpone the vote for another two weeks.”
“I support the law,” said Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, adding, “We agreed on something with Idit,” referring to MK Silman.
“There were no agreements,” countered Justice Minister Sa’ar. “I suggested a compromise that gives the Health Minister a veto.”
Coalition chair MK Idit Silman sent the committee a message saying, “I was elected to serve the public, and there are no more sacred values than preserving public health and saving human lives. Unfortunately, unrelated considerations have been allowed to influence this proposal which I am hoping to advance, together with MK Moshe Gafni on the matter of unifying emergency call centers. I wish to clarify: I will not be cowed by any organization or person on this matter. Saving lives is not something that should be commercialized.”
United Hatzalah welcomed the ministers’ decision to authorize a preliminary reading for the law. Its CEO, Eli Pollack, said, “We welcome this decision to authorize the proposal of MK Idit Silman to unify the emergency call centers. This is an historic step in which, to our delight, Knesset members from both the government and the opposition (MKs Moshe Gafni and Yinon Azoulay) have agreed that saving lives is a sacred value that overrides all other considerations. Our thousands of volunteers are ready as ever at every moment to give of their expertise and dedication in order to benefit the health of the citizens of the State of Israel.”
United Hatzalah President Eli Beer added, “I call on the Health Minister, Nitzan Horowitz, who works day and night for the health of the general public, to continue with his emergency healthcare revolution at the Health Ministry and complete this legislative process as soon as possible, in order to save more lives in Israel.”