JERUSALEM — JERUSALEM -- Israel's national blood bank acted properly when it discarded blood donated by Ethiopian Jews because of concerns about the AIDS virus, a government-appointed panel concluded yesterday.
The policy by the Magen David Adom, Israel's equivalent of the Red Cross, enraged members of Israel's Ethiopian community, who attributed the blood dumping to racism. In January, after reports in the Israeli media about the blood dumping, thousands of Ethiopian Jews demonstrated outside the prime minister's office.
But a special panel convened six months ago to study the issue found that the blood bank's rejection of the Ethiopian blood donations "was done for professional reasons, purely medical on the basis of a worldwide policy."
Claiming this is a racist policy "is a distortion of truth," the committee said.
Since 1991, Israel's blood bank had been taking donations from Ethiopian Jews and secretly destroying the blood because of the relatively high incidence of acquired immune deficiency syndrome within their population.
Israel's health minister chose not to publicize the prevalence of AIDS within the Ethiopian community to prevent stigmatizing a group of immigrants already considered on the lower rung of Israel's socio-economic ladder.
The government-appointed panel, however, did fault the blood bank for keeping its policy secret.
"The decision to silence it was wrong from the beginning," said Eliyahu Winograd, a panel member and a former judge. "The community was hurt more by the fact that it was lied to than had it known the truth."
Ethiopian Jews immigrated to Israel in 1984 as part of a relief effort dubbed Operation Moses. In 1991, 11,000 more were airlifted into the country. It was then that Israeli health officials adopted the blood donation policy.
Israel has a low rate of AIDS, according to the World Health Organization. There are about 1,400 known carriers of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS in the general Israeli population and 550 who are Ethiopian immigrants.
Addisu Messele, an Ethiopian Jew and a member of Israel's parliament, criticized the report as superficial. He said the committee did not adequately investigate the cover-up of the blood dumping. He called on Ethiopian Jews to push for stronger action.
"We went a long and painful way to become blood brothers of all Israelis," said a statement from the United Ethiopian Jewish Organization. "And now we are being denied even the basic right of realizing our citizenship like everyone else."
In its recommendations, the study panel said Ethiopian Jews should not be singled out because their homeland is only one of many countries with a high incidence of AIDS. The committee recommended that the blood agency reject donations from people who had visited or lived in 63 countries where there is a high risk of AIDS.
The majority are from sub-Saharan Africa. But the countries also include Mexico, Argentina, Thailand and Haiti.
The committee said the blood bank could accept donations from Ethiopian Jews under certain conditions.
The blood bank last year received about 225,000 donations from 190,000 donors. It rejects about 10,000 a year for a variety of reasons. Of those, about 400 are from Ethiopians.
Pub Date: 7/29/96