Israel’s health ministry has admitted to injecting female Ethiopian Jewish immigrants with a birth control drug in an effort to reduce their birthrate and control the immigrant population.
Last Sunday the Haaretz newspaper published a letter written by Ron Gamzu, the director general of the country’s health ministry, in which he responds to comments made by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and ordered several organisations treating Ethiopian women to stop administering birth control injections. In the past, the Israeli government has denied giving contraceptive drugs to cut the birth rate among immigrants.
In his letter, Gamzu advised gynecologists treating Ethiopian women in official health ministry clinics not to renew prescriptions for the drug Depo-Provera in case the patients did not fully understand the consequences of taking it. Gamzu added that doctors should call on translation agencies to ensure that the patients had understood these consequences before taking the birth control drugs.
ACRI and five other activist groups have accused the country’s authorities of a “racist attitude”, and criticised the limitations set for Ethiopian women in choosing their own birth control method.
Activist groups have conducted studies showing that the birth rate in Israel’s Ethiopian community has decreased by half over the last decade. Ethiopian women received 57% of all Depo-Provera delivered in the country, although they account for less than 2% of the total population, according to a study released in 2009.
Depo-Provera, a prescription drug, is thought to be highly effective. The women receiving the drug require injections every three months. Adverse side-effects include menstrual irregularities, weight fluctuation, depression, hair loss, headaches and skin blemishes.
The announcement generated a huge amount of controversial comments in social networks such as Twitter.
Ethiopians in Israel
In modern times, the first Ethiopian Jews settled in Palestine, alongside Yemenite Jews, in around 1934. They were immigrants and descendants of the immigrants of the Beta Israel communities of Ethiopia. Between 1963 and 1975, a small group of Ethiopian Jews emigrated, most of them illegally, to Israel.
Between 1979 and 1990, during the Ethiopian Civil War, approximately 7,200 Ethiopian Jews sought refuge in Israel. In 1991, the Israeli government organised “Operation Solomon” during which more than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews were transferred to Israel.
Today Israel is home to the largest Jewish-Ethiopian community in the world. More than 120,000 Beta Israelis live in the country. The majority of Ethiopian Jews are in urban areas of central and southern Israel.