In 2010, a cable originating from Tel Aviv, Israel (1) was published by Wikileaks. The cable contained results of surveys conducted by JDC Brookdale Institute that focused on living conditions of Ethiopian Jews in Israel. Many Ethiopians who read the cable were stunned to find out that 65 percent of Israeli households of Ethiopian origin relied on welfare to survive.
Ethiopian Jews are challenged daily by white Israelis for not being “real” Jews. About a year ago a national television station in Israel broadcasted a story of an Ethiopian family that sparked protests across the country among Ethiopian Jews living in Israel. The story took place in the southern city of Kiryat Malachi where a family with an Ethiopian background struggled to buy an apartment and soon discovered that many tenants in the city have signed agreements not to sell or rent properties to Ethiopians (3). The WikiLeaks cable adds that 50% of Ethiopian parents in Israel are not equipped to support their children stay in school. As a result, according to the cable, in 2009 roughly 26% of the children dropped out of school at early ages.
Although the cable is several years old, situations haven’t improved much today due to negligence by the Israeli government. On Jan 27th, the Tel Aviv based news paper Haaretz claimed (2) that the Israeli government has admitted to the long rumored injection of Ethiopian women with birth control treatment. Depo-Provera, a famous brand for contraceptive injection, is a highly effective birth control system with possible side effects. These include decrease in bone density, which causes easy fractures for women in the long term. It is also a lengthy process to get back to fertility after going under the treatment, especially for poor families with a limited income. Therefore Depo-Provera has been placed under the black box warning by the United Stated Food and Drug administration since November of 2004.
The Ethiopian women who are victims of this act said that they were told the injections were meant for preventing diseases. Some even said it was forced upon them while they were still in Ethiopian camps, under threat of not being brought to Israel. Even though Ethiopians hardly make 3% of the entire Israeli population, research done by local Feminist group named Isha L’isha (5) proves 60% of state sponsored birth controls were given to Ethiopian women. The treatment is said to have resulted in an almost 50% decline of the population of Ethiopian Jews in Israel within the last decade.
This news has angered many around the world and raised human rights questions directed at Israeli government actions. One of them was Hedva Eyal, project coordinator at a women’s rights research group in Haifa (Israel). Eyal told The National which is a leading media outlet in the middle east “I believe there is a deliberate targeting of these women” (4). Ms Eyal’s group, along with six other activist groups, have asked the Israeli Health Minister to clarify the use of the “birth control” drugs amongst Ethiopian Jews.
The Health Ministry, under fire from activists like Eyal, has made a statement issuing medical clinics to use translators if necessary before giving the injections to immigrant women and to stop the injection if the women don’t understand the precise purpose. It is believed roughly 130,000 Ethiopians Jews live in Israel.
- Israel admits Ethiopian women were given birth control shots. By Talila Nesher, 27 January, 2013. Haaretz.
- Ethiopians protest racism in Kiryat Malachi. By Ruth Eglash, 10 January, 2012. Jerusalem Post.
- Israel accused of forcing birth control on Ethiopians. By Hugh Naylor, 28 January, 2013. The National.
- Depo Provera: A Contraceptive Method Given via Injection. A Report on its Prescription Policy among Women of the Ethiopian Community in Israel Hedva Eyal. isha.org (see Depo-Provera)