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04 August, 2009

Butchers: The hidden truth about Israel's kidney theft ring

Over the years, many have accused Israel of trafficking in the organs of Palestinians. The Palestinians themselves have no doubt that the practice is common.

Unfortunately, many of the websites trumpeting charges of Israeli organ theft often display an undeniable anti-Semitic bent. Some of the allegations I've looked into do indeed appear to be spurious. (I would, for example, dismiss any claim that traces back to so notorious a source as La Voz de Atlan.) But before you categorize all such accusations as fantasies, consider: As recently as 2004, the State Department officially denounced as mythical the claim that organ trafficking occurs in the United States. As we now know, that "myth" had a basis in reality.

Knee-jerk accusations of anti-Semitism should not deter us from conducting candid and unbiased research into Israel's record. I would note that those who discuss organ trafficking in India and China are not accused of racial animosity toward the Indians or the Chinese.
-- Joseph Cannon

Butchers: The hidden truth about Israel's kidney theft ring

By Joseph Cannon

Where do the kidneys come from?

I'm talking about the kidneys offered by an "organist" named Izzy Rosenbaum. The FBI scooped him up in a corruption probethat focused on pay-offs to New Jersey pols (nothing surprising about that) and money laundering by prominent rabbis:
The probe also uncovered Levy Izhak Rosenbaum of Brooklyn, who is accused of conspiring to broker the sale of a human kidney for a transplant. According to the complaint, Rosenbaum said he had been brokering sale of kidneys for 10 years.

"His business was to entice vulnerable people to give up a kidney for $10,000 which he would turn around and sell for $160,000," said Marra.
Marra is a US attorney involved with the case. News accounts like the one quoted above have led the public to believe that the "donors" were both willing and compensated, and that this operation was purely private. But good evidence indicates that the matter is far, far more troubling.

The kidneys were "donated" at gunpoint by unwilling victims.

The Israeli government directed Rosenbaum's grisly scheme.

Major American hospitals wittingly participated in the plot.

Before we get to that evidence, let us confront two simple questions: Whosekidneys, exactly, were taken? And what kind of doctor would extract a kidney from a healthy patient?
"I am what you call a matchmaker," the complaint quotes Rosenbaum as telling the undercover agent.

Had the transaction been real, federal authorities said, it would have been the most recent chapter in Rosenbaum's 10-year career as an illicit middleman. In each case, he would take a blood sample from a prospective recipient and give it to an associate at an insurance company who could analyze it at a lab without arousing suspicion. The sample would then be shipped to Israel, and the necessary people paid off to find a match.

"He prayed on vulnerable people, " said assistant US district attorney Mark McCarron.
Rosenbaum would then arrange the donor's flight to New York, including obtaining a visa, authorities said. Once the donor arrived in the US, Rosenbaum would help fabricate a relationship between donor and recipient -- a story both would repeat during interviews with medical professionals. The two might pretend to business associates, for instance, or close friends from a religious congregation.

"The hospitals seemed to be in the dark," McCarron said.
As we shall see, we should take that last statement with a grain of salt roughly the size of Lot's wife.

A close reading of the actual indictment of Rosenbaum (pdf) is troubling. Rosenbaum spilled his guts (so to speak) to an undercover informant posing as a prospective organ purchaser. During these interviews, an FBI agent posed as the purchaser's secretary.

Let's look at some excerpts from the indictment. "UC" refers to the informant, whose real name is Solomon Dwek.

The UC asked defendant ROSENBAUM how defendant ROSENBAUM could obtain a kidney on behalf of UC’s uncle, and defendant ROSENBAUM explained that defendant ROSENBAUM could send a blood sample from the UC’s uncle to Israel to find a matching prospective donor. Defendant ROSENBAUM added that "if you want to arrange it faster, then I, I bring the donor over here... The hospital is the authority who decide it's a match or not. Not me, not you, not him, not nobody."

Defendant ROSENBAUM then explained that it would be necessary to fabricate some sort of relationship between the donor and the recipient. Defendant ROSENBAUM stated that "we put together something–-the relationship. The hospital is asking what's the relationship between" the donor and the recipient. Defendant ROSENBAUM continued, "So we put in a relationship, friends, or neighbor, or business relations, any relation."

Defendant ROSENBAUM explained that he was not a surgeon and that once he had brought a willing donor to this country, "it's beyond my control." He did add that "I take care of [the donor] after, after the surgery also." When pressed on this last point, defendant ROSENBAUM explained that "I place him somewhere," to look after the donor. Defendant ROSENBAUM further stated: "You have to babysit him like a baby because he may have a language problem, maybe not." Defendant ROSENBAUM explained the process of finding a donor in Israel and stated that "[t]here are people over there hurting . . . One of the reasons it's so expensive is because you have to shmear (meaning pay various individuals for their assistance) all the time."

Defendant ROSENBAUM indicated that among those who would need to be paid were the donor and the doctors in Israel who would examine the donor, and further added that there would be expenses incurred for preparing the Visa work and paying the donor's expenses while in the United States. The only evidence that the donor would be willing came from Rosenbaum, who had the following motives for lying:

1. He needed to ease the conscience of the prospective recipient.

2. He needed to justify the large amount of cash involved.

3. He needed to protect the hospitals and doctors involved with his operation. Rosenbaum understood that he was engaged in a risky business, and that even if he got caught, he would still need to provide cover for any hospital or surgeon connected to this wretched business.

Do we have evidence of that the donors were coerced? Yes. In fact, we have the testimony of an "insider" witness:
Nancy Scheper-Hughes of the University of California, Berkeley, was and is very clear as to Rosenbaum's role in the ring.

"He is the main U.S. broker for an international trafficking network," she said.

Her sources include a man who started working with Rosenbaum imagining he was helping people in desperate need. The man then began to see the donors, or to be more accurate, sellers, who were flown in from impoverished countries such as Moldova.

"He said it was awful. These people would be brought in and they didn't even know what they were supposed to be doing and they would want to go home and they would cry," Scheper-Hughes said.

The man called Rosenbaum "a thug" who would pull out a pistol he was apparently licensed to carry and tell the sellers, "You're here. A deal is a deal. Now, you'll give us a kidney or you'll never go home.'
(Moldava, incidentally, is a small country bordering the Ukraine.)

Scheper-Hughes, who is writing a book on this topic, went to the FBI in 2002. They dismissed her evidence. The State Department issued a 2004 report which labeled organ trafficking an "urban legend." By contrast, authorities in other countries acted on her leads and made arrests.
Scheper-Hughes had better luck in Brazil and in South Africa, where law enforcement corroborated her findings and acted decisively.

But the ring kept operating elsewhere. Scheper-Hughes visited villages in Moldova where, "20% of the men were siphoned off to be kidney sellers in this same scheme."

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