Five years after allegations were first levied, and over a month after the issue again attracted mainstream attention through the Israel Educational Television documentary “Vacuum,” the Israeli government has admitted that Ethiopian women were coerced into accepting long-acting birth control shots, likely Depo-Provera. Haaretz writes:
…While the women were still in transit camps in Ethiopia they were sometimes intimidated or threatened into taking the injection. “They told us they are inoculations,” said one of the women interviewed [in "Vacuum"]. “They told us people who frequently give birth suffer. We took it every three months. We said we didn’t want to.”
The widespread practice is thought to account for the last decade’s near-halving of the Ethiopian birth rate in Israel. That this community would be a target of eugenics is disappointingly unsurprising given recently-voiced anti-Ethiopian and generally anti-African racism. As the Independent recounts, some rabbis have doubted the Jewishness of immigrant Ethiopians—necessary for their entrance under the Law of Return—and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has “warned that illegal immigrants from Africa ‘threaten our existence as a Jewish and democratic state.’”
The medical workers’ insistence that “people who frequently give birth suffer” places these coerced procedures in line with the terrifyingly dense global history of eugenics movements, which tend to target women of color, the poor, and the mentally ill. (The practice continues today in the U.S.; California prisons regularly illegally sterilize women without their consent.) Often framed as strategies to combat the “suffering” of mothers or the environmental costs of population growth, these programs conveniently disregard the input of the supposed victims.
According to Haaretz, the Israeli Health Ministry director has called for doctors “not to renew prescriptions for Depo-Provera for women of Ethiopian origin if for any reason there is concern that they might not understand the ramifications of the treatment.” The crackdown is encouraging and has been applauded by Israeli civil rights groups. However, the director’s weak language absolves Israeli health organizations of responsibility, framing the problem as one of misunderstanding and ignorance rather than systemic force.
The central government’s degree of involvement in the actions of these affiliated organizations, if any, is unclear. However, if nothing else, the state is surely guilty of willful negligence in the face of overwhelming evidence of inexcusable abuse.
Update: Debate has arisen as to whether Israel’s statement constitutes an acknowledgment of the practice, as the main papers covering the story wrote, or simply instructions that health personnel should not force birth control on unwilling or insufficiently informed patients.