Outcry in Israel over injection of Ethiopian Jews with birth control drug

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Israeli’s health ministry has come under fire for injecting Ethiopian immigrants women with a contraceptive drug without their knowledge or consent.

The allegations surfaced in December, when an investigative news program looking into the declining birth rate of Ethiopian immigrants to Israel uncovered claims that would-be migrants were told they would be refused entry to the Jewish state if they did not take Depo Provera contraceptive injections.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) followed up on the allegations with Israel's health ministry, which this week released a carefully-worded response, warning that contraceptives should not be administered without explicit consent.

On Sunday, Roni Gamzo, the director of the ministry of health in Israel, issued a formal directive instructing that gynecologists not to inject immigrants with Depo Provera.

Ethiopian Jews are the majority of those given the drug, according to 2010 report by Isha le'Isha, a women’s rights organization.

U.N. News Agency [IRIN][http://www.irinnews.org/Report/97352/Furore-in-Israel-over-birth-control-drugs-for-Ethiopian-Jews] quoted Hedva Eyal, the author of the report as saying: “We believe it is a method of reducing the number of births in a community that is black and mostly poor.”

“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,” Eyal said.

A health ministry letter has asked doctors to determine with patients “why contraception is being used in general and this one in particular and if she is asking of her own free will to prevent pregnancy and if she understands the side-effects.”

“Of course this should be done in a culturally appropriate way and if necessary through Ethiopian intermediaries or through medical translation services,” it adds.

While the letter contains no admission that Depo Provera was administered without consent, ACRI said it considered the ministry's response an implicit admission that such a policy existed.

“The way that ACRI regards this letter from the ministry of health is as an important recognition that the phenomenon was indeed occurring,” ACRI spokesman Marc Grey told AFP.

More than 120,000 Jews of Ethiopian origin live in Israel.

For centuries, Jews in Ethiopia were largely cut off from other Jewish communities, and Israel’s religious authorities only belatedly recognized them as members of the faith.

The move sparked two waves of immigration to Israel, in 1984 and 1991, but Ethiopian immigrants have struggled to integrate into Israeli society, despite massive government aid.