JERUSALEM // Israel was accused yesterday of forcibly injecting Ethiopian women with a contraceptive drug in a deliberate attempt to cut the birth rate among poor black immigrants.
"I believe there is a deliberate targeting of these women," said Hedva Eyal, project coordinator at a women's rights research group in Haifa.
Ms Eyal and other activists say the birth rate in the Ethiopian community has halved in the past 10 years. Her group is one of six that asked the Israeli health ministry to clarify the use of the drug Depo-Provera among Ethiopians.
In response, the ministry urged gynaecologists "not to renew prescriptions for Depo-Provera for women" of any background if there was concern they might not understand its side effects.
The drug, which is given by injection every three months, is considered by many doctors as a birth-control method of last resort because of problems treating its side effects.
The ministry's response did not indicate whether explicit policy guidelines had been authorised or how long government-funded health facilities have been administering the drug to the Ethiopian women, or to how many.
In 2009, Ms Eyal supervised a study that showed 57 per cent of all Depo-Provera users in Israel were Ethiopian although their community comprised less than 2 per cent of the population.
Medical staff have pressured women to take the contraceptive at Israeli-linked transit centres inside Ethiopia that prepare them for immigration to Israel, according to a report last month by Israel Educational Television.
Eight years ago, the report said, officials at the centres threatened to deny an unspecified number of applicants entry into Israel if they refused the drug.
At the time of the 2009 study, Ms Eyal described the drug's use as part of an "unspoken policy" in Israel that aimed to reduce "the number of births in a community that is black and mostly poor".
Many Ethiopian women appeared unaware of the side-effects associated with Depo-Provera and alternatives to it, such as pill-form contraception, she said.
Allegations of racism have been an issue not only among Ethiopian Jews but also the 60,000 African migrants and asylum seekers in Israel. Dozens of asylum seekers were injured by scores of rioting Israelis in Tel Aviv in May, encouraged by politicians who fanned passions with fiery speeches against illegal Sudanese and Eritreans in the city.
Miri Regev, a politician from the ruling Likud party, told the crowds asylum seekers were a "cancer in our body".
Israel is building a large detention facility in the Negev desert to house Africans, who are routinely denied refugee status despite fleeing war zones and despotism.
Complaints of official discrimination against Ethiopian Jews came to a head in 2006 when it emerged publicly that blood donations from the community had been routinely disposed of for fear of disease. They also complain of discrimination in jobs and education.