Indy blogger Matt Hill engages in reckless smear about “forced sterilisation” in Israel

Matt Hill, a blogger for Liberal Conspiracy, published a piece at The Independent on April 16 titled At 65, modern Israel is falling short of Zionism’s most basic goal‘, which ‘defends’ Israel existence, and even lists a few of its achievements over 65 years of statehood, before the inevitable descent into delegitimization and demonization.

First, Hill praises Israel thusly:

The survivors of Russian pogroms, Nazi genocide and Arab expulsions went on to build a state that defeated its enemies time after time.Today Israel’s GDP per head is close to that of the UK, and it has more scientists and engineers as a proportion of its population than any other country.

But, he then begins lecturing the Jewish state with the following psychological analysis:

But as with people who experience early trauma, the instincts Israel developed in order to survive have often proved its undoing. Having had to fight for its life in its early days, it spawned a military which sees violence as the solution to every problem and has spread its tentacles into every corner of the state. Having arrived as landless immigrants scrabbling for every inch of earth, after 1967 Israelis built settlements…on territories belonging to other peoples. And like a victim of abuse who has learnt never to trust anyone, Israel has too often been incapable of reaching out a hand in peace to its neighbours 

It gets worse:

Israel’s story, in brief, might be described as overcoming a horrific infancy to grow rich and successful. But its triumphs have come at a cost. Once full of youthful idealism, today it is cynical, increasingly corrupt, and calloused by hubris. The land of socialist pioneers has become, besides America, the most unequal country in the world. A state established as a home for the homeless now treats immigrants with contempt, as the scandal of its forced sterilisation of Ethiopian women has shown.

The charge that Israel engaged in “forced sterilisation of Ethiopian women” is a gross mischaracterization of a story which has been circulating since December.

As CAMERA’s Israel director Tamar Sternthal argued at the Algemeiner, even the originally deeply flawed report in Haaretz’t didn’t argue that there was “forced sterilisation”.  They claimed that Israeli doctors allegedly coerced “some Ethiopian women in transit camps en route to Israel to receive ‘long-lasting contraceptive injections’ as a condition for immigrating”.

Sternthal:

The Ha’aretz stories were based on a Dec. 8, 2012 Israeli broadcast called “Vacuum,” with host Gal Gabai. Ignoring information to the contrary, and placing words in the mouths of her [35 Ethiopian] interviewees, Gabai relentlessly pushed her pre-determined and unsubstantiated thesis that the coerced injections of Depo-Provera, a contraception shot which lasts three months, led to a decrease in the birth rate among Ethiopian immigrants in the last decade.

Sternthal further noted that Gabai “ignored other factors aside from alleged coerced injections which contributed to a lower birth rate” such as “declining birth rates…associated with greater affluence and an improvement in the status of women”.

Additionally, added Sternthal, “Depo-Provera is the most popular birth control method in African countries, including Ethiopia [and] many women prefer the shot, a discreet means of birth control, which can be administered without the knowledge of disapproving husbands.”  As another CAMERA report demonstrated, while some Ethiopian women should likely have been given another contraception instead of Depo-Provera, there is no factual basis supporting the claim of a ‘systematic mechanism’.

Further, the Jan. 27 story in the Independent which Hill linked to about the birth control row – which didn’t once use the term “sterilisation” – mischaracterized the response to the controversy by Israel’s Health Ministry.  The Indy’s Alistair Dawber wrote the following:

Israel has admitted for the first time that it has been giving Ethiopian Jewish immigrants birth-control injections, often without their knowledge or consent.

The government had previously denied the practice but the Israeli Health Ministry’s director-general has now ordered gynaecologists to stop administering the drugs.

As CAMERA demonstrated, the letter by the Israel Health Ministry Director General (Prof. Rami Gamzu), “did not address the circulating charges that Ethiopian women were systematically coerced into taking shots against their will”, but simply instructed all gynecologists “not to renew prescriptions “if for any reason there is concern that they might not understand the ramifications of the treatment.”

Also, claims made by the Israeli documentary which propelled the story that “women who immigrated from Ethiopia…say they were told [by doctors at the Joint Distribution Committee, ‘JDC’] that they would not be allowed into Israel unless they agreed to be injected with…Depo-Provera”, were flatly denied by Dr. Rick Hodes, JDC’s Medical Director in Ethiopia in an email to Elder of Zion:

Elder:

“So to be clear, you’re saying that you personally never told any woman that she would have to take Depo-Provera shots in order to immigrate to Israel? The women claim that JDC workers from Israel told them they had to do it. Is that claim to the best of your knowledge false?”

Dr. Hodes replied:

To the best of my knowledge, this claim is 100% false.

Neither myself nor my staff have ever told any women in our program that they should take Depo-Provera for any reason. 100% of Depo-Provera shots are purely voluntary, and may be discontinued (or changed to another method) at any time.

In fact, we don’t have JDC workers from Israel come and tell women these things.

As a Haaretz commentary on Jan. 30 by Allison Kaplan Sommer observed, a story of “insensitivity, cultural condescension and yes, perhaps a certain level of racism” was transformed by some in the media “into some kind of villainous genocidal plot of sterilization aimed at ethnic and racial cleansing.” 

As Elder of Ziyon argued, though “some women may have misunderstood the use of the drug or the options they have for birth control”, there was never any plot by Israeli doctors to sterilize Ethiopian women. 

Whilst other publications have engaged in sloppy reporting over the Ethiopian birth control story, Hill’s charge at the Indy leads the pack by engaging in a reckless, hysterical smear that has absolutely no basis in fact.

(Update: Following our communication with The Independent, Hill’s reference to “forced sterilisation” was removed and the the original passage revised.)

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