By Ali Al-Bassam
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

JERUSALEM, Israel — The Israeli Health Ministry recently came under heavy criticism for giving Ethiopian Jewish Women an injectable contraceptive called Depo Provera unknowingly and without their consent.

The Israeli Health Ministry recently ceased the distribution of Depo Provera to Ethiopian Jewish women after allegations arose that they were being distributed to them without their knowledge or consent. (Photo Courtesy of Jerusalem Post)

Suspicions of the act’s occurence arose a few years ago and most recently after a television documentary, “Vacuum,” linked the community’s declining birth rate to an over-prescription of the drug.  The population of Ethiopian Israelis has declined by 50 percent in the last decade. According to a report by the women’s rights organization, Isha le’Isha, Ethiopian Jews makeup the majority of people given Depo-Provera in Israel.

After falling under scrutiny, Israel’s Health Ministry on Sunday ordered four public health maintenance organizations to cease providing Ethiopian Israelis the drug without the administration’s explicit consent. It is the first time that an Israeli official acknowledged that Ethiopian Israelis were being given the drug. The order came after The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) investigated the allegations.

The letter written by the Health Ministry asks doctors “why contraception is being used in general and this one in particular (Depo Provera) and if she (the patient) is asking of her own free will to prevent pregnancy and if she understands the side-effects.” No where in the letter does the Health Ministry admit to administering Depo Provera to Ethiopian Israelis without their consent, however, the ACRI found the ministry’s order to cease the administration of the drug to be an implicit admission of guilt.

“We believe it is a method of reducing the number of births in a community that is black and mostly poor,” said Hedva Eyal, who authored a report which revealed that 57 percent of all Depo Provera users in Israel were of Ethiopian origin even though their community accounted for less than two percent of the population. “It is indeed the first time that the state actually acknowledged that this procedure of injecting immigrant women with this drug, when they do not know the side effects and are given no other choice, is wrong.”

Allegations of racism in Israel have been made not just by the Ethiopian community in the country, but also by other African migrants and asylum seekers. In May, dozens of asylum seekers were injured during the Tel Aviv riots, which were encouraged by politicians who blamed Sudanese and Eritrean communities in Tel Aviv who entered the country illegally.

Claims of illegal discrimination against Ethiopian Israelis specifically reached a boiling point in 2006, when it was made public that blood donations by the community were being routinely disposed of out of fear of disease. Complaints were also raised about discrimination in jobs and education.

For further information, please see:

Al Arabiya — Outcry in Israel Over Injection of Ethiopian Jews With Birth Control Drug — 28 January, 2013

Jerusalem Post — Health Ministry: Halt Ethiopian ‘Birth-Control Shot’ — 28 January 2013

JTA — Israel’s Health Ministry Orders Halt to Injectable Contraception for Ethiopian Women — 28 January 2013

The National — Israel Accused of Forcing Birth Control on Ethiopians — 28 January 2013

Author: Ali Al-Bassam