Financial Times revives misleading ‘discarded Ethiopian blood’ narrative

A May 3rd article by Financial Times Jerusalem bureau chief John Reed focused on clashes yesterday between police and Israelis protesting police brutality, after a video was released showing an Ethiopia-born Israeli soldier being beaten by two policemen.


In attempting to provide context on the broader problem of alleged discrimination against Israelis of Ethiopian descent, Reed wrote the following:

Ethiopian-Israelis have been angered by what they say are double standards in policing and widespread racism in Israeli society.Ethiopian-Israelis have also been angered by cases in which Magen David Adom, the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross, discarded blood donated by people of Ethiopian origin. Pnina Tamano-Shata, an Ethiopian-Israeli MP in the previous parliament, sought to call attention to the issue when she tried to donate blood and was told it would not be used because she had “a special type of Jewish-Ethiopian blood”.

The case Reed is referring to dates back to 2013, and his account of the row is extremely misleading. Whilst the MDA (Israel’s equivalent of the Red Cross) did refuse to accept blood from an Ethiopian Jewish lawmaker, Pnina Tamano-Shata, in Dec. 2013, the selective quote attributed to the MDA volunteer in question – suggesting that Ethiopian-Israelis have “a special type of blood” – is taken out of context.

As the director of the MDA’s blood service said after the row erupted, Ministry of Health regulations prohibited the use of blood donations from all people who had lived for more than a year in countries (such as Ethiopia) which have a high rate of HIV infection.

Racism has nothing to do with the Israeli policy on blood donations from citizens of Ethiopian descent. Indeed, MDA allows blood donations from native-born Israelis of Ethiopian descent who have not actually lived in Ethiopia. 

Further, as Elder of Ziyon pointed out in a related post, “anyone calling Israel racist based on a policy of not accepting blood from some African countries may want to read the American Red Cross guidelines for people they don’t want to donate blood for fear of AIDS”:

You should not donate if you are at risk for contracting HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). The following activities would cause you to be at risk:…If you were born or have lived in, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Niger, Nigeria, since 1977.

Elder argued that those who “say that Israel is racist for limiting blood donors from countries in Africa, as well as Southeast Asia and the Caribbean” must conclude that the US is racist as well. 

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

As Martin Ellis, the secretary of the Israel Society of Hematology and Blood Transfusion, wrote in response to the controversy, Israeli blood donors “are screened and tested on the basis of epidemiology and statistical probability of carrying an infection that may be transmitted by blood and thus endanger the lives of recipients, not by color or creed.”

Erik Levis, a spokesperson for American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA) told The Algemeiner: “A health-related story… degenerated – without merit – into a story about alleged racism and discrimination based on ethnicity.”

While some have reasonably argued that MDA may have cause to update their rules, new policy recommendations should be determined objectively by the probability a donor’s blood will endanger the lives of recipients, not by non-sequiturs about “racism” which have no relevance in determining effective public health policy.  Indeed, evidence abounds attesting to the fact that Israel’s health care system is among the world’s best in both efficiency and efficacy.

But, of course, Financial Times’ reporter Reed had no interest in providing even the most minimal context, as doing so would detract from the desired UK media narrative imputing systemic racism to Israeli society.

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