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The non-racism of Israel’s blood donation policy

Israel is often forced to fend off questionable, double standard-laden claims of racism. But usually it’s not top Israeli government leaders doing the demonizing.

“I can’t stay silent when in the 21st century, in the State of Israel, somebody dares to differentiate between blood and blood,” said Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver.

“It is forbidden that we should differentiate between blood and blood in the State of Israel,” President Shimon Peres said. “All citizens are equal.”

“It’s upsetting to think that this is what Israeli reality looks like in 2013,” said Gila Gamliel, a Likud Knesset member. “It’s forbidden to discriminate.”

The officials’ complaint? On Wednesday, Magen David Adom, Israel’s version of the Red Cross, would not accept a blood donation from Pnina Tamano-Shata, a Ethiopian-born Knesset member from Yesh Atid, during a blood drive at the Knesset. Later, MDA said it would take Tamano-Shata’s blood and freeze it.

Tamano-Shata said that the rejection was “further proof that ‘equal rights’ for Ethiopians in Israel is a nice slogan that doesn’t exist in reality.”

MDA is offering offering a two-fold argument: The policy is not racially motivated — but either way, it’s the Israeli Health Ministry’s policy, not MDA’s.

The emergency medical organization argues that the Israeli Health Ministry protocols governing the issue have nothing to do with race or ethnicity, and everything to do with the HIV rate in Ethiopia. Tamano-Shata couldn’t give blood under existing Israeli law, according to an MDA statement, because she “lived in Ethiopia for the first three years of her life. People residing in sub-Saharan Africa were potentially exposed to pathogens that could put recipients of blood donations at increased risk.”

People of any background who spent significant time in sub-Saharan Africa would be unable to give blood, the statement added, in addition to people who spent time in the United Kingdom between 1980 and 1996, when Mad Cow Disease was present.

MDA says that Israeli regulations allow and the organization accepts blood donations from native-born Israelis of Ethiopian descent.

The Jerusalem Post spoke to an expert who said that the risk of contaminated blood is so low in Tamano-Shata’s case as to perhaps make the policy unnecessary. At present, though, the U.S., U.K. and Australia readily differentiate between “blood and blood” out of similar concerns.

In the incident’s wake, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein has temporarily shuttered the blood donation booth, and the Knesset’s Interior Committee is investigating the Health Ministry’s blood donation rules that led to Tamano-Shata’s rejection.

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