Begin Halts Cabinet Clash As Doctors Stage Hunger Strike

Premier Menachem Begin intervened to halt an exchange of insults at today’s Cabinet meeting between Finance Minister Yoram Aridor and Health Minister Eliezer Shostak over the strike by government employed doctors, now well into its fourth month.

The outburst was the result of the latest tactic employed by the doctors to press their demands for higher salaries — a hunger strike which began at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba last week and has spread to other hospitals around the country. About 1,000 physicians are fasting. Many have collapsed from weakness and the hospitals, manned by less than a third of their normal medical staffs are being forced to shut down various departments. Aridor, who has firmly refuse to exceed the 22 percent wage increase ceiling agreed to with Histadrut, accused Shostak of “creating anarchy in the country as he has done in the Cabinet.” The Health Minister, though opposed to the strike in principle, supports the doctors’ argument that they are not bound by the wage limit because their union is independent of Histadrut and had no part in its negotiations with the Treasury.

Begin demanded that Aridor retract his remark and ordered it deleted from the record. He said he would “speedily” summon Aridor and Shostak to work together to resume negotiations with the doctors which have been stalled for the past few weeks. The two ministers have not been on speaking terms for some time.

BINDING ARBITRATION PROPOSED

Shostak and several other ministers have proposed binding arbitration by outside parties in order to end the strike. The matter was not put to a vote in the Cabinet today. The Israel Medical Association announced it is ready to accept arbitration and Histadrut’s Central Committee also agreed, although the trade union federation usually opposes arbitration on grounds that it is used to break strikes.

Sources close to Aridor said today that if Begin supports arbitration, he will probably resign from the government. The Finance Minister has been adamant from the start that he will accept no compromise that goes beyond the 22 percent wage ceiling.

Meanwhile, leaders of local and municipal councils appealed to the government today to compromise with the doctors to end the strike lest all health services collapse. Doctors employed by Kupat Holim, the Histadrut sick fund, are apparently ready to break ranks with their hospital-employed colleagues. Kupat Holim sources said today there was a good chance that the sick-fund clinics will return to a normal work schedule next week. Since the strike began they have been open only two days a week to treat emergencies and the chronically ill.

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