In past centuries the kings and queens of Europe were said to have blue blood run in their veins. The royal couples rarely ventured into the sun so their pale, sickly skin exposed the blue veins. The rest us: slaves, serfs, peasants, slobs – we had to settle for red.
Now throw black into the mix and you’ve got a whole lotta trouble. I’m talking about Pnina Tamano-Shata, an Israeli-Ethiopian woman, a member of Israel’s Parliament, no less, who’d walked into a blood bank last week followed by rolling cameras. She wanted to donate blood.
The paramedics refused her blood. It was all caught on tape. That’s when the needle started to hurt. Big Time. For everyone.
“How is it that a Jew, an Israeli, is barred from donating blood?” The words “discrimination” and “racism” flew about the airwaves, on TV talk shows, radio, the press.
It turned out that Ms. Tamano-Shata’s moves were well rehearsed. She knew she would be turned away before going in. Israel Ministry of Health’s guidelines are clear: No blood is to be accepted from gay men, people from certain African countries whose AIDS risk is known, people who’d lived in England during 1980-1996, the height of the Mad Cow disease.
So what can be said of the Member of Parliament? That she’s a sensationalist? Media-hungry? Provocateur?
Pnina was born in Ethiopia. At age three she boarded a plane for Israel, part of what was known then as “Operation Solomon.” In the late 80s and early 90s Ethiopia was torn apart by rebel groups. Ethiopian Jews suffered. They cried for help. Within months, Israel sent hundreds of cargo planes to Ethiopia and airlifted them to Israel.
Finally the Tribe of Dan, as they’re called, reunited and immigrated to the Promised Land. Their features were not sub-Saharan black, yet they were still considered black. But so was the Queen of Sheba who’d visited King Solomon in biblical times. And she was welcomed into the palace.
Can’t we get along?
Once the “lost” tribe was found, once the novelty wore off, reality kicked in. Tens of thousands of Ethiopians were sent to distant “developement towns” with little hope for advancement, employment. Their assimilation and integration into Israeli society has been the hardest, longest – although many had come before the mass Russian migration of the 90s.
So Pnina Tamano-Shata, an elected official, wanted to shine the spotlight on the troubles Ethiopians experience. For her, the means (her blood denied), justified the end (call attention to the plight of the Ethiopian community). She said to the cameras: “I served in the Military. My blood was tested. I gave birth to my children. My blood was tested; I’m AIDS-free. Why do you ostracize an entire community?”
Could it be because they’re black? That they make up only 2% of the total Jewish population? That they have no political clout? That, some say, they haven’t embraced the nuances of the 21st century?
The noise and media frenzy reached the Prime Minister’s office. An “Investigation” was initiated. Yair Lapid, Finance Minister and Israel’s poster child for the “new” Israel promised “responsible parties” will be fired.
But these ministers fired their guns prematurely, caved-in to the hysteria. Keeping the country’s blood bank safe is key, the Minister of Health said. She also said she will advocate reforms, re-evaluate the whole donor program.
It’s a start. And no blood was spilled. But most likely, once the the issue turns cold again, they’ll be forgotten. Again.
With all the hardships the Ethiopians endure, there’s one bright spot. Earlier this year, Yityish Titi Aynaw, a vivacious Ethiopian bombshell was chosen as Israel’s 2013 Beauty Queen. The proud queen even met President Obama, represented Israel at Miss Universe in Moscow, probably met up with Donald Trump, the pageant’s owner.
Will the “Queen” be allowed to donate blood?
Blue is a good color, right?
Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.
He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com
or at BN.com