Israel Admits Ethiopian Immigrants Were Coaxed Into Receiving Birth Control Shots

Finally, five years after the work of Haaretz investigative journalist Gal Gabbay raised suspicions that Israeli health organizations had pressured Ethiopian immigrants to receive long-acting birth control shots, the Israeli Health Minister director-general ordered gynecologists to stop administering the contraceptive to this immigrant population. The government initially denied the accusations, which arose when Gabbay interviewed Ethiopian women aiming to learn why birthrates in their community had fallen so dramatically — to nearly half of its previous rate — in the last decade in Israel.

Haaretz, the leading English-language website for Israeli news, alleges that the women were coerced into submitting to the injections while they were in transit camps in Ethiopia.  The long-lasting birth control shots, most likely Depo-Provera, are highly effective when administered every three months. According to a woman interviewed in the Israel Educational Television documentary Vacuum, medical staff presented the injections as inoculations, framing the shots as a strategy to avoid suffering during child birth.

Under the Law of Return, approximately 100,000 Ethiopian Jews have moved to Israel since the 1980s. That this community has been the target of eugenics practices is unsurprising, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed concern in the past that illegal immigrants from Africa somehow threaten Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state. This anti-Ethiopian sentiment, as well as the larger anti-African racism recently voiced in Israel, potentially explains why the government had previously denied the practice of pressuring Ethiopian women to receive contraception without their knowledge.

Though clearly progress is shown by the Health Ministry director’s orders for doctors to stop renewing Depo-Provera prescriptions for Ethiopian women if they are unsure whether the women fully understand the consequences of the medication, the issue is now framed as a misunderstanding and a communication breakdown, rather than an overt — or even subtle — eugenics effort.

It is reprehensible for any woman to be subjected to reproductive control without her consent or full comprehension. While overpopulation is a logical concern for many countries — big and small — a minority community should not be targeted as the sole site of control and repression. Furthermore, the Law of Return bestows both Jews and people of Jewish ancestry the right to return and settle in Israel with the hopes of obtaining citizenship. And while the central government’s exact involvement with the organizations responsible for the practices in question is not entirely known, the state is no doubt guilty of turning a blind eye.