Blood libel: Israel's supply will be contaminated by 'African' blood

December 12, 2013
Sarah Benton

This posting has these items:
1) Mondoweiss: After attending Mandela’s memorial, Knesset member’s blood rejected in gov’t drive because she is African;
2) Ha’aretz: Knesset tosses out blood drive paramedics for barring Ethiopian MK from donating;
3)The Jewish Press: Ethiopian MK Stunt May Result in Compromising Israel’s Blood Supply;
4) Notes and links , includes what the policy on blood donation in the UK actually is.

MK Pnina Tamano-Shata has had her ‘African’ blood rejected by Israel’s Magen David Adom service. Photo by Benny Doutsh

After attending Mandela’s memorial, Knesset member’s blood rejected in gov’t drive because she is African

Allison Deger, Mondoweiss
December 11, 2013

The day after returning from anti-Apartheid leader Nelson Mandela’s memorial in South Africa, Israel’s first Ethiopian-born Knesset member Pnina Tamano-Shata (Yesh Atid), had her blood refused in a government donation drive because she is African. Volunteers at a Magen David Adom (Red Star of David—Israel’s Red Cross) booth set up inside of Knesset told Tamano Shata that she could not give blood because she is has “the special kind of Jewish-Ethiopian blood.”

Tamano-Shata explained that she is a member of Knesset, served in the Israeli army and asked to speak to a manager about her blood’s rejection. She was then told her credentials didn’t matter. The Heath Ministry has a policy against taking blood from people who live in Ethiopia, which they categorize as a high-HIV rate country. Tamano-Shata was born in Ethiopia and at the age of three, moved to Israel in 1984.

From Ynet News:

After pushing the matter further, Tamano-Shato was informed she could donate but that her blood would be frozen and not used.

In response, she told the MDA: ‘I’m good enough to serve the country in the Knesset, but for some reason, to donate blood, I’m not good enough… this is insulting.’

The supervisor responded by saying ‘sweetheart, don’t be insulted, your’re right but these are the Health Ministry’s directives.’ A man present at the scene, told Tamano-Shato as she was exiting, ‘what can you expect, this is a racist country.’ [sic]

Still in Israel there is an unfortunate history of medical institutions refusing blood donations from Africans, and Tamano-Shata has been at the helm of decades of protests to peel back these discriminatory regulations. When she was 16 she led demonstrations to integrate the blood bank’s donation policy, and again in 2006. That year Israeli Channel 2 aired a report exposing that Magen David Adom dumps blood donated by Ethiopians. From Ynet:

‘We fight and die in the army, go on to study, but that is not enough. It’s inconceivable that a person comes to donate blood and is tricked into thinking that he is saving another life,’ says Gadi Yevrakan, a member of the Ethiopian community from Rehovot.

‘He sits, a needle enters his body, a considerable amount of blood is drawn from him, and yet the minute he turns his head they toss his blood to the garbage.’

A few of Tamano-Shata’s colleagues condemned the blood blank’s racist policy. She even got a call from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. From the Jerusalem Post:

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein spoke to Tamano-Shata and expressed shock and displeasure at the incident.

‘I thought this was behind us, but now it turns out I was wrong. This unacceptable phenomenon that has no place in the Knesset,’ Edelstein said.

Several ministers and MKs called the Yesh Atid MK to express solidarity. Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat said that she hopes that something good will come out of the story and change the ‘racist and humiliating policy.’

In addition to trashing blood donated from Ethiopians, last year two Tel Aviv hospitals adopted policies to segregate and African asylum seekers from the general public, and refuse treatment until tests for tuberculosis are completed. The pilot project began after one hospital quarantined a refugee and his ill infant in a locked nurses’ changing room, refusing the sick child treatment until blood was drawn and tested.

Knesset tosses out blood drive paramedics for barring Ethiopian MK from donating

Health Ministry regulations forbid accepting blood donations from individuals thought to be at risk of being carriers of AIDS or other diseases, including those born in Africa.

By Jonathan Lis, Ha’aretz
December 12, 2013

A group of Magen David Adom paramedics who were conducting a blood drive in the Knesset on Wednesday were ejected from the House when they refused to take blood from MK Pnina Tamano-Shata (Yesh Atid) because she is a native of Ethiopia.

The Magen David Adom team was in fact acting in accordance with Health Ministry regulations, which forbid accepting blood donations from individuals thought to be at risk of being carriers of AIDS or other diseases. These include people born in Africa, homosexual men, Israelis who lived in England, Ireland or Portugal for lengthy periods during the 1980s (when Mad Cow Disease was prevalent) and anyone who has recently returned from central Africa, Southeast Asia or the Caribbean islands. The MDA representatives showed Tamano-Shata a copy of the regulations.

Though the restrictions are not new, Tamano-Shata protested, reviving an issue that periodically causes controversy.

“I bear no anger toward those taking blood, who were doing their job,” Tamano-Shata said. “These are guidelines that come from higher up and do a painful injustice to an entire community.

“I made a contribution during my army service and I contribute as an MK, but apparently equality is violated when it comes to donating blood,” she continued. “This issue is of tremendous importance to me personally and it has concerned me from a young age. It’s about time to put an end to this ugly phenomenon.”

Several MKs from across the political spectrum were critical of the incident and expressed support for Tamano-Shata.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein was shocked when he heard what had occurred and ordered the blood drive in the Knesset stopped, pending further investigation.

“I’m shocked by these never-ending stories about blood donations,” Edelstein said. “I thought this was behind us, but it turns out I was wrong. This is an unacceptable phenomenon that has no place here.”

Likud MK Gila Gamliel, who, together with Tamano-Shata, represented Israel at the Nelson Mandela memorial event in South Africa earlier this week, hastened to file an urgent motion for the agenda, demanding a debate on the matter aim at cancelling the regulations.

“Only yesterday, Pnina and I together marked Mandela’s achievements in the struggle against racism,” Gamliel said. “I’m shocked to discover the degree to which the situation here is shameful and disgraceful. It’s upsetting to think that this is what Israeli reality looks like in 2013. It’s forbidden to discriminate.”

Ethiopian MK Stunt May Result in Compromising Israel’s Blood Supply

An MDA medical team was kicked out of the Knesset for refusing an Ethiopian MK Blood.

By Yori Yanover, The Jewish Press
December 12, 2013

Armed with a camera, MK Pnina Tamano-Shata, who was born in Ethiopia, demanded to be permitted to donate blood. She was told she couldn’t, because Ethiopian born Israelis are on the list of people who may not donate (the list also includes homosexuals and Englishmen). Now Israel may expose its blood supply to danger, to appease the political circus she created.

The Magen David Adom (MDA) team that was collecting blood donations at the Knesset Wednesday was chased out of the building, after they refused to accept blood from MK Pnina Tamano-Shata of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.

The team was acting on standard instructions from the Ministry of Health – which is headed by Yesh Atid Minister Yael German. Much like health departments in the U.S., the Israeli health ministry’s instructions prohibit accepting blood from homosexual men, people who spent considerable time in the U.K., Ireland and Portugal in previous decades, and people who arrived in Israel from central Africa, South East Asia and the Caribbeans.

For her part, MK Tamano-Shata said she was not angry at the team that refused to take her blood, but at their instructions, which come from a higher place. She said she was happy to contribute as an IDF soldier and an elected official, why should she not be allowed to do the same when it comes to blood donations?

Rural Jews from Morocco’s Atlas Mountains arrive in Casablanca ahead of their immigration to Israel. Many today remember ‘the humiliation of Moroccan and other Mizrahi Jews when Israeli immigration authorities shaved their heads and sprayed their bodies with the pesticide DDT.’*  This was in the 1950s. 

The answer is simple: because Africa has a high rate of infection with certain diseases, predominately HIV, and the health ministry is deposited with the responsibility to prevent diseased blood from spreading in the population. Public health systems typically draw very wide lines in attempting to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, and the list of possible culprits is an example of a well thought out public health policy.

But in Israel, politics and policy easily mix. Tamano-Shata’s boss, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, attacked MDA for the terrible hurt they had caused. And Yesh Atid Health Minister Yael Garman quickly threw her office staff under the bus (let’s hope they won’t need a blood infusion), declaring it was “absurd” that, 25 years after their arrival in Israel, Ethiopian olim still may not give blood.

That is not exactly true. Of the estimated 120,000 Israeli Ethiopians, some 40,000 are eligible to donate blood, because they were born in Israel. Not to acknowledge this fact is a vicious and completely unfair attack on the Jewish State. But forget Israel’s good name for now — the real danger is to Israel’s blood supply.

Another Yesh Atid MK quickly opened the floodgate to contamination, saying “there are sufficient technological tools with which it can be determined who is an acceptable donor and who isn’t. It is inconceivable that an entire population would be disqualified in a sweeping manner.”

That already borders on the criminal, in my humble opinion, because the purpose of public health policy is to avoid situations in which judgment regarding infectious diseases is left up to the individual healthcare worker in the field. Public health directives are by definition sweeping and stiff, because it only takes one error in judgment on the part of one worker to let a deadly virus into the blood supply.

Go back to the 1980s account of how fast the blood reserves in France and other Western countries went bad because people were not quick enough to plug the loopholes. Using politics to force the hand of professional healthcare administrators is suicide. I prefer 50 thousand Ethiopians who are insulted to the bottom of their souls over one casualty. And that’s how I expect my healthcare system to operate.

That great healthcare maven, President Shimon Peres, condemned the incident severely, declaring passionately that “it is forbidden to differentiate between bloods in the State of Israel, all Israeli citizens are equal.” regular contributor Elder of Zion pointed out this morning:

The haters are out in force, loving this excuse to label Israel racist, even though most Israelis are viscerally upset at this news story. Message boards are filled with people trashing Israel over the MDA’s supposed racism. There is no doubt that the MDA’s policies need to be revisited. The behavior of the MDA reps in this case was not acceptable. However, anyone calling Israel racist based on a policy of not accepting blood from some African countries may want to read the American Red Cross guidelines for people they don’t want to donate blood for fear of AIDS: You should not donate if you are at risk for contracting HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). The following activities would cause you to be at risk: …If you were born or have lived in, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Niger, Nigeria, since 1977.

And Rabbi Chaim Navon of Modiin wrote in his Facebook page: MK Pnina Tamano-Shata has been involved for a long time in discussions at the Health Ministry of blood donation procedures. Which leads one to suspect that she did not come there innocently (accompanied by a camera) to donate blood, but to create a provocation. How lowly are the politicians who were so quick to condemn, armed with cliches of blood images. The MDA policy is well known – why did they start an outcry now of all times? Ethiopian olim are wonderful people, as are English olim, who also don’t donate blood in Israel, because of the Mad Cow disease—whose spread in England is by far lower than the proliferation of AIDs in Africa. Is there no English MK looking to cut this coupon?

Notes and links
Who can’t give blood in the UK?

You should NOT give blood if…

You’re a male donor with less than 12 weeks’ interval between donations

You’re a female donor who had given blood in the last 12 weeks (normally, you must wait 16 weeks).

You have a chesty cough, sore throat or active cold sore.

You’re currently taking antibiotics or you have just finished a course within the last seven days or have had any infection in that last two weeks.

You’ve had hepatitis or jaundice in the last 12 months.

You’ve had a tattoo, semi-permanent make up or any cosmetic treatment that involves skin piercing in the last 4 months.

You have had acupuncture in the last 4 months, unless this was done within the NHS or by a qualified Healthcare Professional registered with a statutory body.

A member of your family (parent, brother, sister or child) has suffered with CJD (Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease).

You’ve ever received human pituitary extract (which was used in some growth hormone or fertility treatments before 1985).

You have received blood or think you may have received blood during the course of any medical treatment or procedure anywhere in the world since 1st January 1980.

You should NOT give blood for 12 months after sex with…

A man (if you’re a male). Men who have had anal or oral sex with another man (with or without a condom) are deferred from blood donation for 12 months.

A man who has had sex with another man (if you’re a female).

A commercial sex worker.

Anyone who has ever injected themselves with drugs.

Anyone with haemophilia or a related blood clotting disorder who has received clotting factor concentrates.

Anyone of any race who has been sexually active in parts of the world where AIDS/HIV is very common. This includes countries in Africa. (Please be aware that if we have previously made special arrangements for you to donate you should check with our 24 hour helpline on 0300 123 23 23 as we have made some changes to our processes).

Israel’s blood donation policy

On January 24, 1996, Ma’ariv newspaper revealed a Magen David Adom policy that drew heavy criticism in Israel and worldwide. According to the policy, which was not brought to the attention of the Israeli Ministry of Health or donors, blood donations received from Ethiopian immigrants and their offspring were secretly disposed of. A later public inquiry traced this back to a misinterpretation of an 1984 instruction to mark blood donations from Ethiopian immigrants due to a relatively high prevalence of HBsAg, indicative of Hepatitis B infections, in blood samples taken from this population.

A few days after the expose, ten thousand Beta Israel demonstrated in front the Office of the Prime Minister. The police force was surprised and unprepared for the violence that erupted, leading to policemen being injured by stones, sticks and steel rods. The police repelled the demonstrators with rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas. 41 policemen and 20 demonstrators were injured, and 200 cars belonging to the employees of the Prime Minister’s Office were damaged.

Tests conducted on 650 Ethiopian immigrants who immigrated to Israel in 1984–1990 and 5,200 Ethiopian immigrants who immigrated in 1990–1992 revealed no HIV carriers before July 1990. Nevertheless, among the 5,200 Ethiopian immigrants who immigrated during “Operation Solomon” there were 118 HIV carriers, who made up 2.3 percent of the test population.‏‏

The public outcry led to his dismissal of the CEO of MDA and the establishment of a commission of inquiry headed by former Israeli president Yitzhak Navon. After several months, the committee published its conclusions, calling for a change in policy. The Committee did not find evidence of racism, although some researchers have contested this.

On November 6, 2006, hundreds of Ethiopians clashed with police when protesters attempted to block the entrance to Jerusalem in the wake of the Israeli Health Ministry’s decision to continue the MDA policy of disposing of donations from high risk groups.

To date, the MDA prohibits the use of blood donations from natives of sub-Saharan Africa, except South Africa, natives of Southeast Asia, natives of the Caribbean and natives of countries which have been widely affected by the AIDS epidemic, including donations from the natives of Ethiopia. Since 1991 all immigrants from Ethiopia [have had to] undergo mandatory HIV screenings, regardless of their intention to donate blood.

* Post-Zionism and the Sephardi Question by Meyrav Wurmser, Middle East QuarterlySpring 2005

MDA reject blood of MK of Ethiopian decent, Ynet December 11th 2013 (full story)
MK Tamano-Shata’s blood called ‘special kind,’ donation refused, Ynet, December 11th, 2013

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