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Israeli doctors hold ‘warning strike,’ caution that judicial overhaul threatens health care system

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JERUSALEM — Doctors in Israel held a two-hour strike Wednesday to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to overhaul the country’s judiciary.

The doctors say the plan will endanger public health by granting Netanyahu and his allies greater control over the country’s health care system.

Wearing scrubs and holding signs saying, “We are the wall shielding democracy,” doctors gathered outside Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv. Medical leaders warned they will take more severe measures if Netanyahu’s government — the most right-wing in Israel’s 75-year history — moves forward with a bill to limit the judiciary’s oversight powers which could become law as soon as next week.

In a letter to Netanyahu on Tuesday, Dr. Zion Hagay, chairman of Israel’s Medical Association, said the bill would lessen the judiciary’s ability to strike down inappropriate appointments to the health care system.

“As someone who once served as health minister, you are undoubtedly aware of the extensive professional powers held by the politicians within the health care system,” he wrote in the letter. “These powers include the appointment of district psychiatrists, district doctors, and various other positions, as well as the authority to make significant decisions regarding infectious diseases, epidemics, clinic and hospital closures, service privatization, and more.”

The plan has triggered months of mass protests, including one on Tuesday, and warnings from key sectors of society, including business leaders and military reservists, that it will damage the country.

The doctors’ strike Wednesday was the first by a workers’ organization since Netanyahu announced last month that the overhaul would move forward.

Weekly mass protests against the plan — including a strike by the country’s national labor union — led Netanyahu to suspend the overhaul in March, but he revived the plan last month after compromise talks with the political opposition collapsed.

Emergency rooms were still open on Wednesday and oncology and fertility treatments remained available, said Dr. Hagai Levine, chairman of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians.

The Israel Medical Association will meet tomorrow to decide on further measures, Levine said.

“If the government continues with the legislation, then the Israel Medical Association will take more severe steps, meaning a more severe strike,” he said.

The overhaul consists of a series of measures that Netanyahu and his allies say are needed to rein in the powers of an unelected judiciary that they believe is overly interventionist in government decisions.

But protesters representing a wide cross section of Israeli society say the plan is a power grab by Netanyahu and his ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox allies that will destroy the country’s fragile system of checks and balances.

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