Debunking the Ongoing “Israel Forcibly Sterilized Ethiopian Jewish Women” Libel

Israeli Tsvika GPO. 25/05/1991

One recurring allegation made by the antisemites and Israel-haters is that Israel forcibly sterilized Ethiopian Jewish women who immigrated to Israel. The allegation is a favorite of theirs, because it concurrently suggests the Jewish state does evil, while also suggesting it is racist against Black people so must be an “apartheid” state as claimed.

The above tweets – just a few examples of many – have been retweeted over thousand times, and been ‘liked’ by tens of thousands of people. As you can see, the tweeters use screenshots of articles from 2018/19 to back up the allegation.

The allegation actually goes back further – to 2013. It started with an investigative report on Israeli television (yes, our democracy enables the media to criticize and question the government), which interviewed some Ethiopian women who alleged that while waiting in transit camps in Ethiopia they were coaxed into agreeing to injections of long-acting birth control drugs.

Ha’aretz then reported about it in Why Is the Birth Rate in Israel’s Ethiopian Community Declining?, and followed this up with Israel Admits Ethiopian Women Were Given Birth Control Shots. Many latched on to these reports.

What these antisemites won’t tell you is how an investigation was launched as a result of these allegations (yes, our democracy enables investigations into alleged government wrongdoing). And it cleared Israeli authorities of engaging in such a practice. Ha’aretz also reported this, yet somehow the same antisemites ignore this. Go figure.

There is no evidence that Ethiopian women who immigrated to Israel were required to take birth-control shots against their will, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira wrote this week in a letter obtained by Haaretz.

Shapira wrote that he had concluded his investigation into the allegations, which surfaced in December 2012, and that “no evidence could be found for the claims raised that shots to prevent pregnancy were administered to Ethiopian women under pressure or threats, overt or covert, or in any way that was improper.”

Shapira, who launched the investigation in November 2013, wrote in the letter that a full document on his findings will be released next week. He reached his conclusions, he wrote, “based on all the information collected during the probe and considering the existing circumstances and their limitations – the long time that has passed since the women came to live in Israel and the fact that the Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency are not subject to state comptroller investigation.”

Shapira launched the probe at the request of a number of women Knesset members, following an investigative report published in December 2012 which included testimony from 35 women immigrants from Ethiopia who said that had been required to receive the birth control shots as a condition for the processing of their request to come to Israel to continue. The main accusations were leveled against the Jewish Agency, the Joint Distribution Committee and the Health Ministry.

The investigation, conducted by journalist Gal Gabai for the Educational Television series “Vacuum,” found an almost 50-percent drop in the birth rate of Ethiopian women in a decade. According to the program, a methodical system was at work regarding administration of the hormone shot, Depo-Provera, effective for three months, in transit facilities housing Ethiopians waiting to come to Israel and thereafter in Israel.

In response, then-Health Ministry deputy director general Prof. Roni Gamzu wrote a letter to the country’s four health management organizations in January 2013, in which he directed them not to automatically administer birth control shots to Ethiopian women. Gamzu called for “suitable cultural access, with the assistance as needed of mediators from the Ethiopian community or medical translating services.”

Shapira had harsh words in his letter about the attitude of Israeli society to Ethiopian immigrants, which he said contributes to their sense of discrimination. He said one reason for this sense was that they feel they are not masters of their own fate, desires or dignity.

“It is our obligation as a democratic and progressive society to fulfill the obligation to human dignity and liberty, as the Basic Law says to ensure equality as determined in the Declaration of Independence,” Shapira wrote.

While some criticized the investigation, pointing out that the State Controller had not heard testimony from the alleged victims, and that questions remained about the organization that had cared for these women in the Ethiopian transit camps, it nevertheless found that no Israeli government agency or private clinic sterilized patients against their will.

This blogger summed it up well:

For the Ethiopian women who received temporary birth control injections in Israeli clinics, it is hard to judge whether there was an element of coercion. The women who received the injections were uneducated and did not speak Hebrew—-so it is not surprising that miscommunication occurred in some cases. In the transit camps some women may have felt obliged to please their caregivers in order to smooth their journey through the immigration process. Once in Israel, medical personnel may have administered the shots based on the medical records from the transit camp.

It is possible that some clinic personnel applied inappropriate pressure on the Ethiopian women or failed to take the time to inform them adequately about Depo-Provera. If so, this is a case of poor medical care, not a racist plan to sterilize black women.

The charge of involuntary sterilization makes no sense. If Israel wanted to limit the Jewish Ethiopian population why did they spend millions of dollars to bring tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel in the first place? And why did they then provide the new immigrants with housing, free health care, and schooling for their children? And if Israel’s aim was population control, why did they extend the state’s generous child welfare allowances to these Ethiopian immigrants, a practice that encourages large families? The final proof of the absurdity of the forced sterilization charge is that, since their immigration, the Ethiopian population of Israel has grown in leaps and bounds.

Members of the Ethiopian community have also been outspoken in rejecting this ongoing libel:

We are used to the antisemites spreading such libels. What is even more troubling is how a number of mainstream media outlets still carry 2013 reports making the claim, yet have not issued corrections. For instance:

Like all other countries on earth, there is some discrimination. Ethiopian Jews in Israel have no doubt suffered this, but it is not institutionalized. They are considered full members of our melting pot society, and serve in all areas of life, including the government, medical and legal professions. I am extremely proud that Israel airlifted them to safety to reunite with their Jewish family here.

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David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media