Hot on the heels of the BBC’s recent spate of binge reporting on the subject of the Beitar Jerusalem football club comes another attempt – this time by Yolande Knell – to paint Israel as a country riddled with racism.
In an article from February 28th 2013 entitled “Israeli Ethiopian birth control to be examined” which appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website, Knell actually does nothing more than rehash an article from the same day which appeared in Ha’aretz.
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.
Hebrew speakers can see the original documentary for themselves here and will note the fact that interviews with both the doctor heading the Israeli Society for Contraception and the Director of the Ethiopian Immigrants Department in the Ministry of Absorption (himself an Ethiopian immigrant) contradict the assertions made by Gabai.
Our colleagues at CAMERA have produced a detailed report examining the background to the claims made in the original documentary (including a partial transcript) and the subsequent Ha’aretz article which can be read here. The latest Ha’aretz article – upon which Knell bases her report – yet again includes factual distortions, which Knell of course repeats.
In her own version of the story Yolande Knell states:
“Questions are being asked whether the use of contraceptive shots could have contributed to the 50% drop in the birth rate among Ethiopian immigrant women in the past decade.
Depo-Provera shots, which are given every three months, are not a standard method of birth control in Israel.
Allegations have been made that some Ethiopian women coming to the country were given them against their will and without having the full side effects explained.”
Where Knell obtained the information which prompted her to claim that Depo-Provera is “not a standard method of birth control in Israel” is unclear. The medication is among the options available to the prescribing gynecologist in all the health care companies and government hospitals and – like all other forms of contraception and medication in general – is prescribed when it best suits the needs of the specific patient. Because Depo-Provera is a progesterone only method of contraception, it is one of the options available to women who cannot take estrogen-based contraceptives (for example, those who are breast-feeding) and it is also indicated in the case of certain medical conditions such as endometriosis. Knell’s assertion that there is a “standard method” contraception in Israel (or elsewhere) is based on ignorance of the medical facts.
Additionally, because Depo Provera is administered at three-month intervals and a new prescription is required for each new administration (entailing a visit to a gynecologist and then to the pharmacy to pick up the medication, followed by a visit to the nurse for the injection itself), women clearly have the possibility to opt out of the treatment every 13 weeks.
Knell also digs up an old story from almost two decades ago in order to add padding to 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’.”
To remind readers, the risk of the transmission of HIV through donated blood was first recognized in 1983 and standardised testing of blood donations for HIV and the then newly identified Hepatitis C virus began around 1992. Whilst the disposal of those blood donations from members of the Ethiopian community in 1996 was undoubtedly insensitive, it was not founded in racism but based on the very real problem which existed worldwide at the time concerning the possibility of the transmission of infectious diseases via blood transfusions. To this day – regardless of skin colour – one cannot donate blood in Israel if one has lived in a country in which Malaria is endemic until three years have passed by since leaving that country.
Incidentally, one can also not donate blood in Israel (because of the risk of CJD) if one lived in England for an accumulated period of six months or more during the years 1980 – 1996, if one received a blood transfusion in Britain since 1980 or if one lived in Ireland or Portugal for an accumulated period of ten years since 1980 – as well as for a whole list of other reasons. Of course Knell would not dream of using that information to write a report implying discrimination against immigrants to Israel from the UK because nobody would swallow such a tall tale.
These repeated transparent attempts by the BBC to paint Israel as a country rotten with racism are so predictable and amateurish that they are becoming ridiculous.
Beyond that – especially in the current climate of economic austerity in the UK – license fee payers will no doubt be disgruntled to discover that they are paying to maintain a BBC Jerusalem Bureau which blindly regurgitates Ha’aretz articles in English which they can easily read online for themselves, should they so wish.
Update: Ha’aretz has issued a correction to the article upon which Yolande Knell’s report is based. One of course expects the BBC to amend its own article accordingly.