Far-right MK says doctors can deny treatment on religious grounds, sparking uproar

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Religious Zionism lawmaker Orit Strock, who is expected to be a minister in the new Israeli government, said on Sunday that doctors should be allowed to refuse to provide treatments that violate their religious faith, as long as another doctor is willing to provide the same treatment. 🇧🇷

Strock’s comments were denounced as racist and discriminatory by several politicians in the outgoing coalition, while new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu distanced himself from his position. Netanyahu also denied that his coalition would allow the passage of a law to that effect, although nascent coalition agreements state that the current law against such discrimination will be amended.

The President of the Medical Association of Israel, Prof. Zion Hagay, insisted that doctors in Israel would challenge any attempt to allow the use of discriminatory practices in treating patients.

“If a doctor is asked to give any kind of treatment to someone who violates his religious faith, if there is another doctor who can do that, you cannot force him to provide treatment,” Strock told Kan public radio.

“Anti-discrimination laws are just and right when they create a fair, equal, open and inclusive society,” said Strock, who is expected to become Minister for National Projects in the new government, with authority over the Department of Jewish Culture – hitherto part of of the Ministry of Education. “But there is a certain deviation where religious faith is trampled and we want to correct that.”

Strock was speaking about treatments where a doctor might have a religious objection, such as fertility treatment for single women, within the general context of his party’s proposed legislation to allow businesses or private companies to refuse services on the grounds of religious conscience.

According to state broadcaster Kan, a clause in the coalition agreement between Likud and Religious Zionism stipulates that legislation will be passed by the new government to allow business owners to refuse service to customers if it violates their religious beliefs.

Netanyahu denied, however, that the coalition agreement provides for such a law.

Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu (left) speaks with Religious Zionism party chief MK Bezalel Smotrich during a vote in the Knesset, Dec. 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“MK Orit Strock’s words are unacceptable to me and my Likud colleagues. The coalition agreements do not allow discrimination against LGBT people or undermine the right of any citizen in Israel to receive service. Likud will ensure that there will be no harm to LGBT people or any Israeli citizen,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

Despite Netanyahu’s denial, Kan journalist Michael Shemesh tweeted an image of the clause in question of the coalition agreement, which establishes that the law against discrimination will be amended “in order to avoid damages to a private company that refrains from providing service or product because of religious faith, since it is a service or product that is not unique and for which an alternative can be found nearby and at a similar price.”

According to Kan, the clause appears in all coalition agreements between Likud and the other parties of the new government, although only the agreement between Likud and Agudat Yisrael, one half of the United Torah Judaism faction, has been formally signed so far. .

The law as it stands prohibits discrimination by those providing public services or products on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and other similar considerations, and anyone who does so is subject to fines.

According to Strock, legislation she and Religious Zionism are advancing would allow these providers to refuse the service if they feel it violates their religious faith, as long as there is another similar service within a reasonable geographic area.

Strock gave as an example a situation where a Christian wanted to hold a Christmas party with a Christmas tree in a place owned by a religious Jew.

“I assume an observant Jew doesn’t want to do this because it goes against their religious faith… Jews have given their lives not to do such things throughout history. The law should not treat Jewish law as something of lesser value,” she said.

“The State of Israel is the state of the Jewish people, a people who gave their lives for their religious faith. It is unacceptable that, having established a country after 2,000 years of exile and laying down their lives for the Torah, this country calls religious faith ‘discrimination’”.

Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman at a meeting of the Knesset Arrangements Committee on June 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Supporting Strock, fellow Religious Zionist MK Simcha Rothman made similar comments on Sunday, saying that if a hotel wanted to refuse service to gays on religious grounds, it had the right to do so.

“A businessman can do whatever he wants in his business. He created the business and he owes nothing to anyone,” Rothman told Kan.

“The law states that a company cannot discriminate for a variety of reasons. this account [proposed by his party] seeks not to abolish the general prohibition of discrimination, but says that when there is a religious obstacle to someone doing something, they will be allowed to withhold service – rather than forcing them to do something that goes against their beliefs,” Rothman said.

Asked whether it would be permissible for a Jew to refuse to serve Arabs on the grounds that he believed Arabs should not live in the Land of Israel, Rothman declined to answer. He also declined to say what mechanism would be put in place to determine whether or not the denial of service was based on legitimate religious belief.

Strock and Rothman’s comments were criticized by several members of the opposition and described as racist, homophobic and discriminatory.

Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid denounced Strock’s comments and blamed Netanyahu for the emergence of such sentiments, saying he was “leading us into a state of ignorance”. [ruled by] Jewish law”.

Labor MK Gilad Kariv tweeted: “We should not be surprised by Orit Struck’s racist comments. It’s his life lesson. We should be outraged by the equanimity of the Likud leaders in light of these disgraceful and dangerous comments.”

Yesh Atid MK Ram Ben Barak said he did not believe Netanyahu’s denials and warned that the country was moving in a direction that would allow widespread discrimination.

“We live in periods when there were signs saying ‘no entry of Jews’, and now we see these laws that say that businessmen can decide who they want to sell to. There will be grocery stores that say ‘No entry to women’ and tomorrow there will be another one that says ‘No entry to Arabs’, predicted Ben Barak.

Hagay, çhairman of the Israel Medical Association, insisted that “doctors in Israel are committed to the medical oath and will not allow any person or law to change that fact,” in response to Strock’s comments.

“We will not allow foreign or political considerations to be introduced between doctors and patients. The health care system has always been an island of sanity, a symbol of coexistence, a place where Jews and Arabs work side by side, guided by the value of equality,” tweeted Hagay.

“The Hebrew doctor’s oath explicitly says: ‘You must help a sick person as long as he is sick, whether he is a foreigner or a non-Jew, and whether he is a citizen, contemptible or honorable.’ And in the prayer of the doctors of Maimonides it is written ‘I will only see the human in a sick person’. This is how it always has been and this is how it will always be.”

The president of the Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel, Hila Peer, also condemned the comments, describing them and the proposed law as “un-Jewish” and shameful.

“MKs Strock and Rothman want to mark LGBT people so that we remain in our homes as in the dark days of humanity. We will not agree to this at all,” Peer said, calling on Netanyahu to oppose such legislation.

Responding to the criticism, Struck said: “Nobody intends to discriminate against LGBT people because of their identity or what they identify with. Not under medical treatment, or in any other way. LGBT people are human beings who deserve respect and love like anyone else.”

She insisted, however, that if there was “medical treatment that contravened Jewish law, a religiously observant physician would not be forced to administer it, regardless of the identity of the patient.”