Israel sees blood donation shortage amid Omicron, boycott from some religious groups

Donations to Magen David Adom drop sharply over last month; organization blames virus surge, but has also been hit by controversy over change on form meant to be LGBTQ inclusive

Illustrative. A young girl gives blood at a Magen David Adom mobile blood donation center. (Daniel Dreifuss/Flash90)
Illustrative. A young girl gives blood at a Magen David Adom mobile blood donation center. (Daniel Dreifuss/Flash90)

Israel’s Magen David Adom has seen a sharp drop in blood donations over the past month, leading to some hospitals delaying elective surgeries, officials said Sunday.

According to Prof. Eilat Shinar, the head of MDA’s blood services, the reason for the drop in donations, from an average of 1,100 units per day to just some 600-700 daily units, is due to the wave of infections brought by the Omicron variant, with some 1.5 million Israelis infected since the start of the year.

The drop in donations had led to several hospitals delaying elective surgeries as they need to maintain a minimum supply of blood for emergency situations.

However, Channel 12 reported that a significant contributing factor to the drop has been a boycott by some ultra-Orthodox yeshivas in a dispute over changes made to the donation form that sought to accommodate the LGBTQ community.

In recent months the form changed its wording, from asking for the origin of the donor’s mother and father to asking for the origin of “parent 1” and “parent 2.”

This upset many ultra-Orthodox Jews, who oppose homosexuality as immoral. The question has since been completely dropped from the form, but this has not appeased many of those angry at the change.

Meir Seidler, of the group “Choose Family,” which claims to work to strengthen “family values” in Israel, told Channel 12 that the move was part of “a trend to remove mothers and fathers from every possible form in the country.”

Seidler said that Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz “is much more of a minister for LGBTQ affairs than he is minister of health.”

Minister of Health Nitzan Horowitz donates blood at a Magen David Adom blood donation center in Jerusalem, October 25, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Last year, Horowitz, who was the second openly gay Knesset member, ruled that all restrictions on blood donations from homosexual men would be lifted.

Gay and bisexual men were originally prohibited from donating blood over fears of AIDS, though in recent years countries around the world have started changing their procedures on gay blood donors.

Many of the ultra-Orthodox yeshivas normally arrange organized blood donations, so their absence was causing a noticeable effect, the report said. Some were still demanding the original wording on the form be restored.

But the MDA’s Shinar downplayed the impact of the ultra-Orthodox boycott and said the question was removed because it was no longer relevant.

“The vast majority of the shortages are caused by Omicron. More than 1.5 million Israelis were infected; many of them have not yet recovered. Others were also exposed to them and they also can’t donate,” she said, adding that other countries, including the US and in Europe, were facing a similar situation.

Prof. Eilat Shinar, director of Magen David Adom (MDA) blood services at the blood donation room at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan Sept. 2019 (Shoshanna Solomon/Times of Israel)

Shinar said the question was removed because it was no longer needed, noting that in the earlier years of the state, rare subtypes of blood were located by the geographic origin of the immigrants to Israel.

“Today, most of those born in Israel are children of Israeli natives and so there is no value to that information. It does not help us find what we need,” she said.

Channel 12 noted that the boycott was not unanimous across the Haredi community and many felt that donating blood took precedence over other considerations.

“The question here is what is more important,” one yeshiva student, who identified himself as Gedaliah, 18, told Channel 12 as he donated blood. “Saving lives comes first.”

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