Three year old allegations from BBC’s Yolande Knell shown to be untrue

Nearly three years ago, in February 2013, the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell produced an article which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Israeli Ethiopian birth control to be examined“.Knell Depo Provera

As was documented here at the time, Knell’s report was actually no more than a rehash of an article which appeared on the same day in the Ha’aretz newspaper.

“In fact, this story has been around for some time, after Ha’aretz first latched on to a programme  made by Israeli journalist Gal Gabai which was broadcast in December 2012 on Israeli television and which asserted that some Ethiopian immigrants had been given the contraceptive Depo-Provera against their will. The original Ha’aretz article embroidered the already problematic television programme and the exaggerated story took on a life of its own in many foreign media outlets, with Ha’aretz later finding itself dealing in damage control.” 

In the same article Knell also misrepresented another much older story connected to Israel’s Ethiopian community in order to pad out her insinuations of racism.

““The issue is extremely sensitive in Israel where the population of about 120,000 thousand Ethiopian Jews sometimes complains of discrimination. There have been several scandals in the past. In 1996, for example, the Israeli authorities admitted they had secretly disposed of blood donations given by Ethiopian Israelis because of fears about HIV/Aids.”

Instead of blindly repeating things she reads in Ha’aretz, had Knell bothered to read the 1996 report by former Israeli president Yitzhak Navon into that incident before putting finger to keyboard, she would know that the disposal of those blood donations was the result of a failure by the blood services (which are run by Magen David Adom – not “the Israeli authorities” as Knell states) to update an earlier directive from 1984 (at the time of Operation Moses) which related not to HIV, but to Hepatitis B, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The Navon report stated:

“Contrary to the public impression, there is no connection between the decision made in 1984 and AIDS.”

“At the time the health services were worried by findings connected to the prevalence of diseases such as Malaria, Tuberculosis and Hepatitis among the Ethiopian immigrants from ‘Operation Moses’.””

Ha’aretz subsequently corrected the article upon which Knell’s report was based but no amendment was made to the BBC’s article, which still remains available online.

Israel’s State Comptroller (Ombudsman) has now completed an investigation into the allegations.

“There is no evidence that Ethiopian women who immigrated to Israel were required to take birth-control shots against their will, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira wrote this week in a letter obtained by Haaretz.

Shapira wrote that he had concluded his investigation into the allegations, which surfaced in December 2012, and that “no evidence could be found for the claims raised that shots to prevent pregnancy were administered to Ethiopian women under pressure or threats, overt or covert, or in any way that was improper.””

Yolande Knell’s ugly smears never had any verified, factual basis but nevertheless the BBC allowed her inaccurate article to become “historical record“. Obviously, it is high time for the BBC to make amends by appending a note to the article which explains that its content is inaccurate and misleading. 


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