Let’s Get the Facts Straight About Ethiopian Jews and Contraception

February 7, 2013 3:54 am 20 comments

A Jewish Ethiopian child holds an Israeli flag. Photo: Ethiopian Diaspora Forum.

As a bat mitzvah girl in suburban Philadelphia, I was riveted by the plight of Ethiopian Jews in the late 1980s, and was twinned with Yeshalem, an Addis Ababa girl whose brother had already made his way to Israel. Following the inspiring two-day mass airlift of 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 1991, news clippings about Operation Solomon yellowed on my bedroom wall for years.

By the time I finished high school, I was not able to track down my twin or her family – bureaucrats at the Ministry of Interior did not have time for an American teen with poor Hebrew and worn letters. So I don’t know what has become of her. Did her entire family make it to Israel? Did she go to university? Start a career? Get married? Have children?

Was she sterilized?

According to a sub-headline accompanying an Op-Ed in the English edition of Ha’aretz, “The revelation that Israel is sterilizing Ethiopian women adds to a shameful history of abuse of powerless women and communities.” That’s a shocking, horrifying assertion with its overtones of Nazi racism and Dr. Mengele’s experimentation. It’s also completely false. Although it was later corrected, the damage was done.

Along with two news articles in Ha’aretz which purveyed slightly less extreme charges – that Israel allegedly required Ethiopian women in transit camps en route to Israel to receive long-lasting contraceptive injections as a condition for immigrating – the Ha’aretzitems set off a firestorm of global coverage. According to reports, the coerced injections continued even after the women arrived in Israel.

Millions of readers have heard various versions of the story in venues ranging from the mainstream (such as Huffington Post’s“Ethiopian Women Claim Israel Forced Them to Accept Birth Control Shots”) to the virulently anti-Semitic. (“State of Israel forced the sterilization of Ethiopian women” speaks of Zionist Dr. Mengeles.)

Is it true? Did Israel’s soaring rescue of thousands of Ethiopian Jews crash land some two decades later?

The Ha’aretz stories were based on a Dec. 8, 2012 Israeli broadcast called “Vacuum,” with host Gal Gabai. Ignoring information to the contrary, and placing words in the mouths of her interviewees, Gabai relentlessly pushed her pre-determined and unsubstantiated thesis that the coerced injections of Depo-Provera, a contraception shot which lasts three months, led to a 50 percent decrease in the birth rate among Ethiopian immigrants in the last decade.

Besides the abhorrent possibility that Israeli officials and/or employees of the Joint Distribution Committee, which operates the Ethiopian clinics, maintained a “systematic mechanism” (Gabai’s words) to ensure the women receive the shots, are there are other feasible explanations for the prevalent use of Depo-Provera among Ethiopian Jews? Yes, but Gabai, Talila Nesher of Ha’aretz and their foreign colleagues failed to consider them.

Depo-Provera is the most popular birth control method in African countries, including Ethiopia. Many women prefer the shot, a discreet means of birth control, which can be administered without the knowledge of disapproving husbands. A 2005 study carried out by Family Health International found: “Because contraceptives may introduce social discord, leading at times to intimate partners’ violence among African couples, women of low bargaining powers often resort to family planning methods that are suitable to covert use. . . Consequently, a general pattern that has been observed in the contraceptive method mix in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere in the developing world is the predominance of injectables.”

A serious journalist covering the widespread use of Depo-Provera among Ethiopians would have taken into account women’s desire for discreet birth control. Gabai interviewed the head of the Israeli Society for Contraception, who noted the cultural preference for injections, but she completely discounted this point in her conclusion.

Moreover, Gabai ignored other factors aside from alleged coerced injections which contributed to a lower birth rate. For instance, in the modern world, declining birth rates are associated with greater affluence and an improvement in the status of women. As they gain greater study and work opportunities, as well as better access to more advanced medical care and family planning, many women opt for fewer children. Poor populations with high child mortality rates also have high fertility rates. Israel has a lower infant and child mortality rate than Ethiopia.

As demographer Petra Naihmas notes in the Demographic Research journal: “Ethiopian immigrants arrived from a rural, less developed country, where traditionally children have an important economic role to play. Obviously, within a developed urban economy, children are a net economic burden upon the parents until early adulthood and there is an emphasis on the future returns to investment in the education of children. The economic incentive to reduce fertility exists.”

Futhermore, Naihmas contends that “abortions are being increasingly relied upon as a form of pregnancy control, especially among younger Ethiopian women” in Israel. Moreover, she says, women are putting off marriage and children: “The increase in median age of first marriage is particularly impressive for new Ethiopian immigrants, which increased by six years between 1990 and 2000.”

According to a 2007 USAID report, many women in Ethiopia want birth control and are unable to get it; 34 percent of Ethiopian women want family planning services to prolong the time between births, or to prevent additional pregnancies. In their Ethiopian clinics, the JDC provides these critical, sought-after family planning services, and women are treated there from their own free will. These are the same services that are offered in thousands of programs around the world, run, for example, by the United Nations Population Fund. And yet Gabai assigned a sinister purpose to the JDC family planning workshops, referring to them as a “euphemism for decreasing the birth rate.”

Regardless, is it still possible that certain JDC employees were negligent in carrying out their responsibilities, not carefully enough explaining side effects or alternative contraceptions? Might some Israeli health workers have been patronizing or racist, assuming that Ethiopian women could not be relied upon to take pills every day? Of course these are possibilities.

But, is it true, as Gabai says to one of her interviewees, an Ethiopian mother of four, “they told you [having children is] forbidden in Israel”? The mother, who said she intends to have more children, replied: “No, why forbidden? There are loads of children. What, why forbidden?”

Irresponsible, sensationalist reports distract from real social challenges facing Ethiopians in Israel, and do not help them.

There are those, however, who do benefit from this saga. In the digital era, where falsehoods long outlast yellowed news clippings, the lie about Israel’s sterilization of Ethiopians will doubtless become another weapon in the arsenal used by extremists to delegitimize the Jewish state.

20 Comments

  • I followed your link to prove correction of the news and surprisingly sends you to another page where there is another link to a correction of a DIFFERENT news … so long for your facts

  • What about claims that the birthrate amongst Ethiopian-Israelis declined 20% over ten years?

    • That’s addressed in the article. Increased affluence, increased urbanization, decreased infant mortality, and increased access to contraceptives and abortion all lead to reduced birth rates. A huge number of Ethiopian Jews arrived in Israel in 1991. They were then still Ethiopians with Ethiopian lifestyles. Twenty years later, they’re Israelis with Israeli lifestyles.

  • How dare you claim these stories to be false when every major media outlet has already confirmed them! Clearly you are the one with a pro-Israel bias since you are pulling arguments out of your ass. Swedish reporters tried to do the exact same thing in the 1960s and now people are completely unaware of the 80,000 forced sterilizations back then. Karma knows no religion. You will be punished one day for your desperate attempts to defend and undermine a complete travesty. You disgust me.

  • “The Times of Israel details the case of a nurse — captured by a hidden camera in a health clinic — telling an Ethiopian woman that the shot is given to Ethiopian immigrants because “they forget, they don’t understand, and it’s hard to explain to them, so it’s best that they receive a shot once every three months … basically they don’t understand anything.”

  • “Women who immigrated from Ethiopia eight years ago say they were told they would not be allowed into Israel unless they agreed to be injected with the long-acting birth control drug Depo Provera, according to an investigative report aired Saturday on the Israel Educational Television program “Vacuum.”"

    How is it acceptable to justify the forced use of this dangerous contraceptive for even one women? Let alone the obvious racism of targeting Ethiopian women. Please don’t continue this racism further by implying these women just liked this drug because they didn’t want their husbands to know. How insensitive and naive!!

    Facts straight – please.

  • As I am reading this article and the comments. Tears fill my heart and spirit. I am ultimately saddened by these facts that are presented on account of how the Ethiopian women arr most likely being taken advantage of! Due to their lack of ignorance and poor education! Shame on Israel government! As some of the above commenters I agree educate them and help them to successful in their new life in a country seeking refuge! And let those women make their own decision concern birth control! I will continue to be in prayer concern this situation!

  • Forgot to mention the side-effects of Depo-Provera….

    “Delayed return of fertility. The average return to fertility is 9 to 10 months after the last injection. By 18 months after the last injection, fertility is the same as that in former users of other contraceptive methods

    Long-term studies of users of Depo-Provera have found slight or no increased overall risk of breast cancer. However, the study population did show a slightly increased risk of breast cancer in recent users (Depo use in the last four years) under age 35, similar to that seen with the use of combined oral contraceptive pills

    While it has long been known that Depo-Provera causes bone loss, it has recently been discovered that the osteoporotic effects of the injection grow worse the longer Depo-Provera is administered, may remain long after the injections are stopped, and may be irreversible. For these reasons, on November 17, 2004 the United States Food and Drug Administration and Pfizer agreed to put a black box warning on Depo-Provera’s label.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depo-Provera#Disadvantages_and_side_effects

    I’m sure everyone of those black ladies was fully informed, and said, “Whatever. Give me the shot, Doc”

    • Contrary to erroneous media reports, Israel has not admitted anything regarding coerced injections of Ethiopian women. As reported in Ha’aretz (in Hebrew, but not English), Prof. Gamzu, the Health Ministry director-general, explicitly said in his directive to gynecologists that he is not confirming any such claims: “Without taking a position or establishing facts about the claims regarding this matter,” the director-general wrote, “I request that all gynecologists working in or with the HMOs not renew Depo-Provera prescriptions for women of Ethiopian origin or other women if for any reason there is concern they might not undersand the ramifications of the treatment.”
      http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=2&x_outlet=55&x_article=2408

      • Hi Tamar,

        Rather than present any evidence to the contrary you have implied that black women in Israel enjoy and prefer to receive birth control injections, even if that are force to comply with a government policy. That’s rather lame, dear, and kind of anti-woman of you.

        Additionally you state that the Health Ministry “is not confirming” the claims of forced injections while the quote clearly shows the they are NOT DENYING these claims, a tactic used to avoid the appearance of lying when they eventually make a meaningful public statement (in which they will most certainly confirm that these programs have existed for the purpose of controlling the birth rates of black immigrants in Israel => Zionist Conservative Policy).

      • For the record, the Israeli government rarely admits of any wrong-doing even if obviously guilty. If it even began to do so, the legal and geopolitical ramifications would be devastating to the Israeli state. It usually takes an independent initiative of Israeli citizens or outside journalists to shed light on any if the government’s rather convoluted history of funny business. Even then, for fear of being blocked access to Israel (i.e. denied a visa or right of return), many journalists shelve their findings. The Health Ministry’s clarifications on this issue are simply a continuation of Israeli’s overall policy of deliberate ambiguity, which extends far beyond matters of nuclear arms and into post political spats in general. It’s basically a form of blowback control.

    • Claire Mcdonald

      By, you should know by now there are many lies about Israel on the internet.
      It’s sad you haven’t waken up to the fact it is so easy to lie and make up stores about them. This story and many others have said it wasn’t true.The people who claimed that Israel had sterilized them were trying to make Israel look bad, because it is so easy to do. Yet you are obviously to stupid to realize that.

  • The “FACTS” will speak for themselves and Time will tell.

  • Where is Maria’s comment? We know and knew we just like seeig it and I don’t mean Maria’s comment,,,,, sterilizing these women(black Jewish Women), its gonna come back and bite you hard, every thing is time now, like the nine months it takes to give birth. Let’s watch the clock.

  • :TEARS FOR THE NATION:
    TAMAR:
    BILLIONS OF IMPOVERISHED PEOPLE IN THIS WORLD.
    billions, ZILLIONS.
    They should ALL be lifted to Israel now.
    I also tear for them.
    Everyone should be flown to Israel, paid stipends, fix their teeth,feed them,clothe them, educate them…
    ALL 10 BILLION TRILLION ZILLION PEOPLE
    NOW SHOULD GO TO ISRAEL.
    And most of all………
    EVERY ONE IS A LOST TRIBE OF YAACOB AVEINU
    all 116 tribes
    We will convert them by way of deformed judaism to insure their judaism.

    I HAVE PICTURES OF ALL the POOR, POSTED ALL OVER MY HOUSE…I CRY EVERYTIME I EAT MY CAVIER…
    where is obama when we need him

    NOW,THE MAIN THRUST OF YOUR TEARS.
    BIRTH CONTROL FOR THE POOR…..
    AWWW…MORE TEARS FROM ME AND YOU…

    BAT MITZVAH IS NOT, I SAID NOT,,JUDAISM
    IT IS A FEMINIST DEFORMED MOVEMENT TO COMPETE,TO BE EQUAL WITH MEN. WITH A BAT MITZVAH YOU CHANGE PLACES WITH THE MEN HANDING OVER THE RIGHT TO HAVE CHILDREN TO MEN AND YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO MARCH AROUND THE KOTEL While hitting the Liberty Bell thats sitting in the Phildelphia Square.

    THEN YOU SAY ‘tikun olam’…
    I already covered that…
    Bring the zillion people to Israel.This way there will not be any problems of arabs or misisonaries running over the state of ISRAEL because we have a billion zillion lost 116 tribes OCCUPYING as settlers diplacing the arabs RIGHTS…AWWW..BOO HOOO.

    WHILE YOU CRY FOR THE WORLD AND BIRTHRATES…
    any extra condums in your bag? The state should pay for that..

    WHAT LEARNING PROCESSES ARE YOU GOING THROUGH
    TO IMPROVE YOUR SELF AND YOU UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT
    ‘ONE G-D’ WANTS FROM YOU PERSONALLY. WHAT LIGHT ARE YOU SHINING TO SHOW THE WORLD OF *YOUR SERVICE TO G-D?
    BAGELS, LOX, CREAM CHEESE, MASADA TOURS,DONATING TO UJA 95% GOES TO ADMINISTRATION SUPPORT,MARCHING WITH HILLARY CLINTON,SUPPORTING JOHN KERRY WHOSE WIFE SUPPORTS MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD, CALLING ARABS OCCUPYING ISRAEL A palisitinain WHEN THE ROMANS GAVE THE JEWS THAT LABEL, CALLING THE LAND THAT JOSHUA GAVE TO JUDAH AND MENASHAH west bank.
    TAMAR WHAT ARE YOU LEARNING OF TORAH AND ISRAEL HISTORY.

    TIKUN OLAM MEANS BEGIN WITH YOU AND YOUR OWN HOME.
    your light will shine from your personal improvements IN TORAH.

    Dont forget to cry for the xtian missionaries stealing our innocent people through lies and deceptions.
    They need your hugs also.
    and the swallows in capistrano are nervous from so many tourists

    THIS IS THE MEANING OF TIKUN OLAM?
    bat mitzvah,how rediculous, a traing ground for feminism.
    Here,take a tissue for your tears..boo hoo

    CRY FOR ISRAEL THE NATION THAT FORGOT HASHEM

  • Shame on Algemeiner for allowing comments by ANTISEMITIC ACTIVISTS WHO WRITE ALL OVER THE NET and even the use of VULGARITY, like the Maria end Wati above.
    If that’s your policy: it’s losers’ policy: these guys have already a plethora of media to vent their hatred on and to fabricate stories, from 9/11 on.
    Everyone – except antisemites – knows that the story about the Ethiopian women was a COMPLETE FABRICATION.

  • France overseas with its French citizens of African origin is more righteous than Israel.

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