Israeli Eugenics: Forced Birth Control for Ethiopian Jewish Immigrants

The Independent‘s Alistair Dawber reports that “Israel has admitted for the first time that it has been giving Ethiopian Jewish immigrants birth-control injections, often without their knowledge or consent.” Many of the immigrant women were given shots of Depo-Provera to control the population due to a fear expressed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “that illegal immigrants from Africa ‘threaten our existence as a Jewish and democratic state.’ ”

Compulsory birth control is not the same as forced sterilization, though I would argue that they exist within the same spectrum. While the former is (usually) reversible and (usually) doesn’t threaten a woman’s health, mandated birth control and sterilization are both eugenic techniques. Adding to that concern for the Ethiopian immigrants is the unquestionably unethical practice of injecting them without their knowledge or consent.

There is a long history in this country (and in many others, including Nazi Germany) of controlling “undesirable populations,” usually beginning with citizens with physical or cognitive disabilities. That policy extended to racial and ethnic groups deemed “undesirable” as well, demonstrating the slippery rhetorical slope by which being the “wrong” skin color becomes conflated with deviance and disability. The U.S.’s sterilization efforts against Puerto Rican women, American Indian women, and African American women likewise attempt(ed) to manage people groups in order to stabilize power in the hands of those who already wielded it.

Population control is more often about percentages than an overall figure; it’s about keeping the balance in a way that maintains hegemony by (re)producing those citizens most likely to sustain the status quo. No doubt Ethiopian Jews would threaten the particular Jewishness of the Israeli state because cultural contact zones always ask for negotiation and assimilation between different groups. But the Jewishness that Netanyahu seeks to protect through underhanded injections is not a Jewishness worthy of protection; it is unethical, inhospitable, and shameful—not to mention possibly criminal—to take in refugees and subject them to medical treatments without their knowledge or consent.

I understand, insofar as a non-Jew can understand, the allure of Zion, the desire to protect a piece of land for a people group that seems eternally and irrevocably scattered. Yet to resort to eugenics, a weapon so often used against the Jews (themselves labeled “undesirable” throughout the world) does not protect Jewishness. Rather, it diminishes it and makes Netanyahu another oppressor.

About Erin Wyble Newcomb

Erin Wyble Newcomb earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction and Women's Studies from Penn State University. In addition to parenting her daughters, running marathons, and making things with glitter, she teaches in the English Department at SUNY New Paltz. Follow Erin on Twitter @ErinWyble or at http://phdmama.com/.


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