Ethiopian Jewish migrants in Israel and involuntary birth control

In December 2012, the TV investigative journalist Gal Gabbay presented a short documentary that shocked the audience. After interviewing more than 30 Ethiopian women, it was revealed that these African Jewish women had to accept receiving injections of Depo-Provera (a long-term birth control taken every 3 months) in Israel, but also as a prerequisite to go from the transit camps in Ethiopia to this privileged destination.

The symbolic belonging to Israel felt by many Ethiopians is ancient. It might be seen from the correspondent toponymy of Ethiopian and Israeli cities (Nazreth/Nazareth) to the Ethiopian assumption of the Lion of Judah as one of this country’s main symbols. This lion represents the most populous tribe of Israel, present both in the Bible (Book of Genesis and Book of Revelation) as in the Ethiopian Kebre Negest. It symbolizes the solomonic dynasty of the Ethiopian empire, recalling the founding legend on the union of the Queen of Sheba with the King Solomon of Israel. Even if the most representative religions in Ethiopia are the Orthodox Christian and the Islamic, the Jewish community had a privileged context to develop. According to the Law of Return, and under the Dove’s Wings operation, every Ethiopian Jewish (“falasha”) should be integrated in Israel in a foreseeable future.

But what may this integration mean? According to Efrat Yardai, the spokeswoman of the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, Israel is applying a policy of total control over the lives of these “black Jews”: children are sent to special education sections of religious schools, their parents tendentiously live in ghettos and the women continue the “treatment” in absorption centers. The official excuse is the need to prepare Ethiopian immigrants for a modern country, keeping them dependent on state institutions and disregarding the well known side effects of Depo-Provera injections. Actually, this drug had been used in the USA state of Georgia from 1967 to 1978, consisting on an experiment in impoverished women, which revealed heavy side effects, from severe headaches to death. It was one of many examples of the attempt to reduce birthrates among disadvantaged and poorly resilient communities – a subtle face of eugenics.

The most recent news refer that this drug is the most popular birth control among Ethiopian women in Israel – even though it is prescribed as a vaccine, without their knowledge of being a birth control measure with side effects. 57% of its takers in Israel are Ethiopians; yet, other women interviewed anonymously (referring to be non Ethiopian) in the same absorption centers are only encouraged to take Depo-Provera in very unusual cases.

More than half of the Ethiopian-Israeli families live below the poverty line. Some allegations on official racism have been heard mainly since 2006, when blood donations by Ethiopians have been discarded for the fear of disease contamination, but also following some reports of Ethiopian children being denied regular places in schools, and a study revealing that more than half of Israeli employers avoided hiring Ethiopian immigrants. Could their Jewishness not be enough?


“Israel’s Ethiopians Suffer from Different ‘Planned’ Parenthood”, Efrat Yardai adapted from Haaretz (12-12-2012)

“Africa: Furore in Israel Over Birth Control Drugs for Ethiopian Jews”, IRIN Humanitarian News and Analysis (28-01-2013)

“Israel’s treatment of Ethiopians ‘racist'”, Jonathan Cook at The National (06-01-2010)

“Ethiopian women claim Israel forced them to use birth control before letting them immigrate”, The Times of Israel (09-12-2012)

“Israel impõe controlo da natalidade a judeus etíopes”, Expresso (05-02-2013)


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