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December 12, 2013 12:49 am

MDA Blasts Media, Politicians Over ‘Dangerously Misleading’ Story About Rejection of Blood From Ethiopian MK

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Pnina Tamanu Shata. Photo: Wikipedia.

Executives at Israeli ambulance service, Magen David Adom (MDA), bitterly responded to politicians and media outlets Wednesday night, over a story that broke earlier in the day, which they say falsely painted the humanitarian organization as racist.

During a blood drive hosted by the group at Israel’s parliament, Ethiopian Knesset Member, Pnina Tamanu Shata, was told that if she wished to donate, her blood would be frozen. Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot which first published the story said that Shata was told that she had a “special type of blood of the Ethiopian community.” The incident, which was captured by news crews, prompted harsh accusations of racism, and condemnation from local politicians.

Sharply criticizing Yediot, Erik Levis, a spokesperson for American Friends of Maden David Adom (AFMDA) told The Algemeiner that the paper “made a racial issue out of something that wasn’t a racial issue.”

“This is strictly a health-related story that has degenerated – without merit – into a story about alleged racism and discrimination based on ethnicity,” he said.

Describing the story as “bogus,” “dangerously misleading” and “advocacy journalism gone wrong,” Levis said that the organization was concerned that in the end the report “might cost Israeli lives.”

Explaining that although MDA does reject blood from people born, or who lived in, some sub-Saharan and Caribbean countries Levis made clear that the policy was irrespective of race, ethnicity or color, and that it was in line with international guidelines.

“MDA takes blood donations from native-born Israelis of Ethiopian descent regularly. MDA categorically denies this incident was born out of discriminatory practices,” the group said in an email to The Algemeiner.

“This has nothing to do with a person’s race,” said Prof. Eilat Shinar, MDA’s director of blood services. “If I had lived for several years working as a doctor in sub-Saharan Africa or in Britain, I too would be ineligible to donate blood in Israel or in most countries in the world. The safety of Israel’s blood supply and health of blood recipients is paramount.”

“While the risk of any type of pathogen is relatively small from an Ethiopian Israeli who’s lived in Israel for years, it’s Israeli Ministry of Health policy, based on international protocols, to try to reduce exposure to near zero percent for the safety of blood recipients.”

“Blood donations are also deferred from people who’ve lived in Britain between 1980 to 1996 because of potential exposure to mad cow disease,” MDA added.

Popular blogger, Elder of Ziyon, pointed out that the International Red Cross guidelines for people who wish to donate blood, say that “You should not donate if you are at risk for contracting HIV (the virus that causes AIDS).”

Among the activities that “would cause you to be at risk,” is being born in, or having lived in “Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Niger, Nigeria, since 1977.” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration likewise recommends similar guidelines.

In Canada, Elder of Ziyon points out, all potential donors are asked “Were you born in or have you lived in Africa since 1977?”

Ann Lesser, a white South African-born member of AFMDA’s National Board of Directors told The Algemeiner that these same rules apply to her, and she has no objections.

“I have never been able to donate blood when I visit Israel, which I fully understand. MDA told me this 10 years ago and I understand the reasoning behind it,” she said.

Politicians reacted to the incident from across the  political spectrum, expressing solidarity with Shata.

“I am good enough to serve the state and in the Knesset,” Shata told Yediot. “But for some reason to give blood I am not good enough.”

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu “telephoned Shata about the incident and said that there should be a review of the criteria for blood donations by Ethiopians,” The Times of Israel reported.

Calling for a review of Israel’s laws on blood donation Israel’s President Peres said that “It is forbidden that we should differentiate between blood and blood in the State of Israel.”

But Rob Rosenthal, Chief Marketing Officer at American Friends of Magen David Adom, said the comments from the politicians were tantamount to “bullying a kid who you know can’t fight back.”

“There is no reason why any politician should take out or advance their own agendas on MDA which is an apolitical organization,” he said. “MDA’s role in Israeli society is too important and too critical to have these kinds of altercations because it distracts from saving lives.”

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