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Minister: Blood shortage will end in coming days, despite ‘foolish’ Orthodox boycott

Nitzan Horowitz says Omicron surge led to crisis, rather than calls by hardline religious groups not to give blood to MDA over forms referring to ‘parent 1 and ‘parent 2’

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

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said Tuesday that the recent countrywide blood shortage would likely end in the coming days, adding that “foolish” calls by anti-LGBT religious groups not to donate — over Magen David Adom forms asking donors to identify “parent 1” and “parent 2” — were not the cause of the crisis.

Horowitz said at a Knesset Health Committee session that the “temporary” blood shortage was caused by the Omicron wave of the pandemic, as those infected are barred from donating for several months, adding “it’s not related to any other matter.”

He noted that such shortages are taking place around the world as well, and impacted Israel in previous waves of the pandemic too. “It’s the worst blood shortage in 40 years, according to the World Health Organization,” Horowitz said.

The health minister said that his office had decided to shorten the amount of time one must wait to donate after testing positive for the coronavirus, though he did not specify by how much. As a result, though, donations have already started returning to pre-shortage rates, Horowitz said, adding that recent days saw 1,100 donations per day, compared to 1,000 donations during a normal period.

The problem should be solved “in a number of days,” he said.

Horowitz then went on to address the protests against MDA.

“No sector in Israel has ownership over Israel’s blood bank,” he said, dismissing the outrage of Orthodox organizations and lawmakers.

In recent months, MDA blood donation forms changed their wording from asking for the origin of the donor’s mother and father to asking for the origin of “parent 1” and “parent 2.”

He said the updates were based on recommendations from health experts. Moreover, the latest version of the forms no longer includes any questions asking for information on the donor’s parents. Horowitz said that MDA used to ask about a parent’s origin due to concerns of diseases from foreign countries. Now that the majority of Israelis have parents born in Israel, the question was deemed as no longer necessary.

“The health system is the flagship of equality in Israel, taking care of everyone, regardless of religion, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, country of origin, family makeup or anything else,” Horowitz said, adding that those advocating for a boycott “should be embarrassed.”

But United Torah Judaism chairman Moshe Gafni wasn’t convinced, telling the committee that allowing the MDA forms to be updated created a slippery slope that could lead to updates to IDs and “everything else.”

He declared that he would tell people to donate blood directly to hospitals rather than to Magen David Adom.

UTJ MK Moshe Gafni reacts during a session in the plenum hall of the Knesset, on July 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I’m aware that every person has a father and every person has a mother and this is how it’s always been. The ramification of writing ‘parent 1’ and ‘parent 2’ is the destruction of family values,” he shouted in horror. “A normal person who sees that these are the forms — I’m not so sure that he’ll go and donate blood.”

Culture Minister Chili Tropper, a member of the Blue and White party and himself a member of the national religious camp, said Tuesday that while the protest against MDA is legitimate, that is not the case when Israel is facing a blood shortage and such campaigns have the potential to put lives at risk. “If their protest is honest, they will also refuse to accept blood,” he said at the B’Sheva conference.

“I do not know of a situation where someone falls and you do not reach out to help them. Extend a hand and then afterward you can debate their opinions,” Tropper added.

Several big hospitals have reported severe shortages of blood, Kan reported on Sunday, warning that the ongoing lack may lead to patients not receiving the treatment they require.

According to the report, the hospitals most affected by the shortage are Soroka Medical Center, Assuta Ashdod Medical Center, Shamir Medical Center, Rambam Health Care Campus, Galilee Medical Center and Emek Medical Center.

Some hospitals have found unorthodox ways of dealing with the situation. Sheba Medical Center has started asking for blood donations from medical staff and their families. Other hospitals said they had launched similar efforts.

Last year, Horowitz, who became the second openly gay Knesset member when he was first elected, 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 and national-religious 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.

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