Eran J. Rolnik

Israel’s slouching towards authoritarianism

An Open Letter to

the Israeli Medical Association &

the Israel Psychoanalytic Society,

November 8, 2023

Dear Colleagues,

I wish to share with you a worrying development concerning the freedom of expression in Israel and the relationship between official Israel and the health professions.

Brief background – In addition to my work as a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and university teacher, for the last 10 years I hold a part-time position as head of the medical department at the treasury office that handles German reparations to Holocaust survivors. My duties in this official administrative position are to recruit, train and supervise Israeli ‘trust doctors’ who provide medical evaluations to the compensation authorities in Germany, on the basis of which allowances for Holocaust survivors are determined.

On November 6, I was summoned by email for an urgent interrogation at the disciplinary enforcement department of the Civil Service Commission. There, I was interrogated for 3 hours about my journalistic writing and my activities as part of the Kaplan protest. The investigation included careful questioning about my political views, as expressed in a number of articles I published in ‘Haaretz’ daily newspaper. The interrogator had a large pile of printouts on his desk –  marked and highlighted articles I published in the past year, from which he read selected paragraphs and sentences, asking me to confirm that I stand by them.

I was asked to sign each of the printouts and confirm their contents. The quotes I was questioned on included, among others, references to Prime Minister Netanyahu, his wife, and various laws promoted by the coalition. I was asked whether I thought it is appropriate for a civil servant of my rank to participate in the Kaplan protest, speak at rallies of academics and mental health professionals, and express opinions regarding legislation related to mental health and medical ethics. I explained to my interrogator that as an intellectual, a medical doctor, a university teacher and a therapist I view publicist writing as part of my vocation, alongside my academic writing. I added that I consider my public work to be related to protection of individual rights, and that I do not intend to stop writing and expressing my opinion.I explained to my interrogator how mental health is linked to democracy and the difference between incitement and intellectual persecution to patriotism and the love of one’s homeland.

The conversation was, at one and the same time, both comical and bewildering, seeing the roles of prosecutor and defendant reverse, each in turn shocked by the words and ideas expressed by the other, as well as the current situation of the state of Israel, and the processes taking place in it these days. It was also a conversation of the type I studied and wrote about in my research on the history of psychoanalysis under totalitarian regimes in the 1930s and 1940s. I was forbidden from writing down or otherwise recording the content of the conversation, and I did not receive a copy of the minutes, which I will receive only if subjected to disciplinary proceedings. When I asked the interrogator if he happened to conduct similar questionings recently, he paused to think and then answered “I had someone here a couple of days ago. He posted a picture of abductees with a Palestinian flag on social media. You, Doctor, are of course a different story. You are obviously a man who loves his country. I don’t think you have anything to worry about.” I hope you will find this brief dispatch from the Home Front worthy of your attention.

Eran J. Rolnik, MD, PhD.Psychiatrist; Training and supervising psychoanalyst (IPA)Tel-Aviv 

About the Author
Eran J. Rolnik, MD, PhD is a training and supervising analyst at the Israel Psychoanalytic Society and the International Psychoanalytic Association, psychiatrist and historian (member of the IPA History Committee). He is on the Faculty of the Max Eitingon Institute for Psychoanalysis and Tel-Aviv University School for advanced Studies of Psychotherapy at the Medical Faculty of Tel-Aviv University. He published over 70 journal papers, 3 monographs and has edited and translated 7 books. His book on the migration of psychoanalysis from central Europe to Jewish Palestine/Israel in the inter-war era has been published in Hebrew, English, German and French. In 2019 he published an annotated edition of Freud letters to 70 different interlocuters. His recent book “Talking Cure – 13 Talks on Psychoanalysis” published in Hebrew and in German concerns the theory and technique of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy. He works in private practice in Tel-Aviv.
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