Ori Lewis Reuters5:02 p.m. CST, December 11, 2013
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The speaker of Israel’s parliament ordered a blood-collection crew to leave the legislature’s premises on Wednesday after it turned down an offer of a blood donation from an Ethiopian-born lawmaker.
Knesset member Pnina Tamano-Shata, 32, wanted to donate blood to a routine visit by an ambulance service but was told by a member of the crew that set criteria disqualified her because she emigrated to Israel from Ethiopia at age three.
Israeli Health Ministry criteria bar people born in most African countries since 1977 from donating blood due to a fear that there is an increased risk they may carry the HIV virus.
Tamano-Shata said ministry guidelines determine that Ethiopian-born Jews who emigrated to Israel when they were over two years old are ineligible to be blood donors.
“Clearly, my blood samples are checked, there has never been any cause for concern … nevertheless, there is an attitude of not bothering to scrutinize (blood donations of Ethiopian immigrants) even though they know that it humiliates an entire community,” she told Channel 10 television.
Israeli President Shimon Peres expressed disgust at the incident, saying: “There must not be any differentiation between Israeli people’s blood. All Israel’s citizens are equal.”
Health Minister Yael German described the incident as “a disgrace” and said she would order a public consultation to change the guidelines. A parliamentary committee is set to discuss the incident next week.
The World Health Organization said on its website that surveillance in Ethiopia as of September showed the adult rate of AIDs is estimated at 6.6 percent among a total population of over 90 million people.
In 1996, thousands from Israel’s Ethiopian community besieged the office of then-Prime Minister Peres in a violent protest at what they called Israeli racism against blacks.
They demonstrated after discovering that the national blood bank had a policy of throwing out their donations for fear of AIDS. New guidelines were subsequently made public but these still prevent Ethiopian Jews from giving blood.
Israel’s community of Ethiopian Jews numbers some 100,000. They moved to Israel after chief rabbis determined in 1973 that the community had biblical roots.
Since 1996, fewer than 10 Jews of Ethiopian origin have made it into Israel’s parliament as members if various factions. Some from the community have attained officer rank in the military but complaints of discrimination in schooling and housing are common.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)