Journalism (Mostly) Sucks
Just Don't Believe It
Sorry for my typos…
About a year ago, I began to read Ethiopian history for a writing project. What I learned blew the picture I’d formed about the country out of the water. It’s complicated, and I’m not going to go into a long disquisition about it here. Let me focus on one thing: a few years back, there was a scandal about Israelis
implanting IUDs injecting Depo Provera1 in Israel-bound Ethiopian women against their will to cut down on their birth rates.
There’s only one problem with the story. It never happened.
Haaretz is Israel’s best newspaper, at least according to the people who read it. (I am told by those who know Hebrew better than I that it is Israel’s best-written newspaper. But that doesn’t make it a good newspaper.) Haaretz is read by Israeli midwits who, like the midwits here, think they are smarter than they really are.
Ethiopia is a feminist’s nightmare. No, it’s a nightmare, period. It has a terrible health profile. Disease is endemic. Its birthrate is coming down, but it’s still a very high 4.15 per woman. (Bear in mind that replacement level is about 2.1 children per woman.) Until the 1974 revolution, it was a backward, feudal society run by a Emperor-Theocratic elite, not unlike pre-revolutionary Russia. They controlled everything: land, patronage, wealth. It was truly patriarchal. The pressure built up inexorably. Something had to blow and it did, massively and violently. The revolution did away with the theocracy and the aristocracy but not the patriarchy.
In 2012, Haaretz lamented, “Why Is the Birth Rate in Israel's Ethiopian Community Declining?”
Women who immigrated from Ethiopia eight years ago say they were told they would not be allowed into Israel unless they agreed to be injected with the long-acting birth control drug Depo Provera, according to an investigative report aired Saturday on the Israel Educational Television program "
The birth rate among Israel's Ethiopian immigrant population has dropped nearly 20 percent in 10 years.
As soon as you read the words “according to an investigative report aired Saturday on the Israel Educational Television program” the bullshit meter should start ringing. Well, no—it should have started ringing before that.
Birthrates have been declining everywhere. When people move from a poverty-stricken dump to a modern Western country, birth rates decline because fill in the blank: education, urbanization, lower infant mortality, who the hell wants ten kids unless you are an Orthodox nutcase? Etc., etc.
Did these well-known facts escape the journalists at Israel’s Best Newspaper(tm)?
Asking why the Ethiopian birthrate dropped after moving to Israel is rather like asking why you shouldn’t hit your head with a ball-peen hammer.
In 2004, the time at which the article claims the women were coerced into getting the shots, the birth rate in Ethiopia was six per woman. SIX. Translating these numbers into real life means many women were constantly pregnant.
I recently read a book written by an ethnomusicologist who spent the years 1973-1975 in Ethiopia. She described her one conversation with an Ethiopian woman who had ten kids.2 The woman wanted to know why the ethnomusicologist wasn’t home having babies. But even so, she bemoaned the fact that she had ten kids, and would likely be condemned to have more. There was nothing she could do about it.
Haaretz did later report on an investigation which concluded that no coercion took place, but the damage was done. Who believes government agencies in this day and age? All good people now believe that Israel forced black women to take birth control against their will because of racism.
The truth is, as Professor Steven Kaplan wrote, “complicated.”
Professor Kaplan is an academic. Not being constrained by academic niceties, I can say that these charges are bullshit. Coercion never happened. Ethiopian-Israeli birthrates have declined because of a variety of factors—ALL OF WHICH ARE GOOD (see above) having nothing to do with the Depo Provera shots.
(Side rant: Western feminists who are quick to yammer about the invasion of “bodily autonomy” in this case—when it DIDN’T happen—and who simultaneously screech that outlawing abortions at thirty-six weeks is interfering with their bodily autonomy make me want to vomit.)
With respect to the actual alleged crime, here is what likely happened. The women readily consented with full knowledge and then lied about it when pressed for an explanation because they were scared of their abusive husbands.3
As one Ethiopian nurse noted, some Ethiopian women may prefer this method because unlike contraceptive pills, the injections can be taken without their husband’s knowledge. Indeed, a 1999 report on expanding contraception in Ethiopia, prepared by the Ethiopian Ministry of Health and WHO states that one of the advantages of injections is that “They offer anonymity since they may be administered outside the home, and beyond the watchful eye of anyone opposed to their use.”
Watchful eye meaning their husbands, who use women as baby factories.
Dr. Rick Hodes, an American born physician who has worked in Ethiopia since the 1980s echoes this noting, “Injectable contraceptives are the most desired throughout the country. They are easy, culturally preferred, and offer the ability to be on birth control without a woman informing her husband, which is an issue here”.
The medical help they’re given is culturally sensitive and conducted in their native languages, Amharic and Tigrayan. Health-wise, the Ethiopians are way better off in Israel than in Ethiopia. Spiritually, identity-wise, I cannot say. That’s another story for another time. And it’s not my story.
Don’t believe what you read in the newspapers or see on TV.
It’s all propaganda. Cheap, silly propaganda.
Why only one conversation with another woman? As a foreigner she had the privileges of a man, even going so far as to refer to herself as a “marginal male.” Dealing with women was simply fraught with difficulties, so both sides avoided it.