Did Israel violate the Genocide Convention by forcing contraceptives on Ethiopian women?
After initial denials, Israel has admitted that medical authorities have been giving Ethiopian women long-term contraceptive drugs and it has been alleged that this was done without the women’s consent.
If the allegations are proven, this practice may fit the legal definition of genocide.
The government has now ordered clinics not to renew prescriptions for the long-acting injectable contraceptive drug Depo-Provera “for women of Ethiopian origin if for any reason there is concern that they might not understand the ramifications of the treatment.”
Allegations of coercion and threats
In some cases, the drugs were reportedly administered to women waiting in transit camps for permission to emigrate to Israel. The women’s allegations, reported by Haaretz, are shocking:
“We said we won’t have the shot. They told us, if you don’t you won’t go to Israel And also you won’t be allowed into the Joint (American Joint Distribution Committee) office, you won’t get aid or medical care. We were afraid… We didn’t have a choice. Without them and their aid we couldn’t leave there. So we accepted the injection. It was only with their permission that we were allowed to leave,” recounted Emawayish, who immigrated from Ethiopia eight years ago. She was one of 35 women, whose stories were recorded by Sebba Reuven, that relate how they were coaxed and threatened into agreeing to receive the injectable birth control drug.
Dramatic decline in Ethiopian birthrate
The journalistic investigation was prompted by a precipitious decline in the birth rate among Ethiopian women in Israel:
About six weeks ago, on an Educational Television program journalist Gal Gabbay revealed the results of interviews with 35 Ethiopian immigrants. The women’s testimony could help explain the almost 50-percent decline over the past 10 years in the birth rate of Israel’s Ethiopian community.
The Genocide convention
From The Independent:
Sharona Eliahu Chai, a lawyer for the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), said: “Findings from investigations into the use of Depo Provera are extremely worrisome, raising concerns of harmful health policies with racist implications in violation of medical ethics. The Ministry of Health’s director-general was right to act quickly and put forth new guidelines.”
But if indeed the goal of those who administered the program was to target Ethiopian women, and to reduce the number of births they have, then the policy may be a crime under Article II(d) of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
If the coercive contraception program were administered against women in general, it would be unethical and abhorrent, but it can only be genocidal if it is done “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.”
In this case, there is no allegation that the policy was employed against anyone except Ethiopian women. That would be one indication of targeting.
These Ethiopian women emigrated to Israel under the “Law of Return,” Israel’s racist policy to only allow those it considers Jews into the country, while keeping out indigenous Palestinians.
But remember, Israeli officials and state rabbis long delayed or denied entry to tens of thousands of Ethiopians whose Jewishness did not meet official standards.
In the early 1990s, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir accused thousands of Ethiopians of secretly being Christians.
Ethiopians, even those who came under the Law of Return and are recognized as Jews, have faced a long, documented history of state and societal discrimination including being forced to attend segregated schools.
Anti-African incitement from the top
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has also served as health minister throughout his term of office, and is therefore personally accountable for the policy, stated last year that African migrants “threaten our existence as a Jewish and democratic state.”
So the atmosphere in Israel is one in which hatred and incitement targeting Africans in general is rife and encouraged by authorities.
Israel unlikely to discourage Jewish births in general
It would also be illogical that Israel would institute a general birth control policy for women it recognizes as Jewish. Israel has no interest in decreasing childbirths by Jewish women in general, and due its obsession with demography, anxiously hopes that the Jewish birthrate will accelerate and non-Jewish birthrates will slow down.
But given the racism against Africans as Africans, whether Jewish or not, it is plausible that the policy was meant to target Ethiopian women.
Even if it is proven that the policy targeted Ethiopian women and was intended to prevent births among Ethiopians, Israel could argue that the policy had other goals than “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.” That would require knowing the motivations of those who planned and implemented the policy.
To put it mildly, Israel does not have a strong history of investigating itself, and while genocide is a crime that any state can pursue, it is doubtful that signatories to the Convention will challenge Israel’s impunity and investigate this case.