Ethiopian-born Israeli lawmaker spurned at blood-collection drive

Knesset member denounces incident as the latest in series of what she calls racist actions against black community

Roughly 2,000 Israelis of Ethiopian origin stage a rally against racism in the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Malachi on Jan. 10, 2012, seeking to highlight racial discrimination in their country.
Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

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 3.

"Under health ministry directives, we are unable to accept blood from donors of Ethiopian Jewish origin," the health official was reported to have said as he spurned the donation.

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 2 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.

"I'm 32, I arrived in Israel at the age of 3, did my military service and have two children. There's no reason to treat me in this way,” she said.

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 the adult rate of AIDS in Ethiopia as of September 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.

"I myself took part in that demonstration, but nothing has changed since then," Tamano-Shata said.

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.

Israel's community of Ethiopian Jews numbers around 100,000, who mostly emigrated in two big waves in 1984 and 1991.

Wire services

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