Knesset Speaker MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud-Beytenu) expelled a Magen David Adom (MDA) team from the Knesset after it allegedly refused to take a blood donation from MK Pnina Tamano-Shata (Yesh Atid), because she was born in Ethiopia.
However, MDA said that the MK had carried out a deliberate provocation.
MK Tamano-Shata had approached the MDA's mobile unit, which came to the Knesset on a blood drive, and asked to donate blood.
She was allegedly told that she cannot donate blood because Health Ministry guidelines specify that blood should not be taken from people who were born in countries with a high incidence of HIV, or who spent more than one year in those countries. An MDA representative told her that donors from Britain and Ireland are also turned away, as are homosexuals.
Tamano-Shata told the MDA team that she has been in Israel since age 3 and served in the army. The MDA representative reportedly told her that if she insists that she wants to donate blood, it will be taken, but the blood might not be used. Tamano-Shata told the MDA representative that this was insulting.
The policy regarding blood donations by Ethiopian Jews was set many years ago, when it was determined that the immigrants have an especially high rate of HIV infection, compared to other Israelis. It is intended to protect blood donation recipients from infection with the dreaded disease.
Tamano-Shata may have known that she would be turned away: her entire conversation with the MDA representative was recorded with a cellphone camera, by a companion.
MDA spokesman Zaki Heller said following the incident that MK Tamano-Shata is a member of a committee that is currently discussing changing the criteria for blood donations, and therefore had to have known that she would be refused.
In any case, the incident quickly reached the media. Speaker Edelstein told the MDA team to leave and expressed “shock” over the matter to MK Tamano-Shata. “I thought this was behind us, but it turns out today that I was wrong,” he said. “This is an unacceptable phenomenon.”
President Shimon Peres denounced the incident and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called MK Tamano-Shata and said that he had instructed Health Minister Yael German to take care of the matter.
German, who is also from Yesh Atid, said that it is “an unbearably absurd matter that in 2013, in the state of Israel, Ethiopian Jews who arrived in the country more than 25 years ago still can't donate blood.” She said that she intends to hold a series of discussions that will be open to the public, in which professional opinions from international experts will also be heard, in order to change the criteria for blood donations “in a way that safeguards the human dignity of the donor, as well as the health of the blood donation's recipient.”
Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) said that he was “shocked to hear that someone thinks that the blood of MK Tamano-Shata, and that of the rest of the Ethiopian Jews, is less red than the blood of the rest of us. Just as any person who can be saved must be saved, so we must take blood from the Ethiopian Jews, who serve in the military and are subjected to all of the duties of Israeli citizens.”
MK Aryeh Deri (Shas) said that “it is unacceptable that because of one's origin, without any testing, blood will not be taken from members of a certain group.” He called on the Minister of Health to immediately rectify the situation.