Report: Coerced contraception behind 50 percent decline in Ethiopian-Israeli birth rate

Israeli and Jewish aid officials are denying an Israeli TV report alleging that Ethiopian immigrant women have been coerced into taking contraceptive shots.

The report, which aired Saturday night on Israeli Educational Television, charged that coercive contraception is behind a 50 percent decline in the Ethiopian birth rate in Israel over the last decade.

Ethiopian women interviewed in the program, called “Vacuum” and hosted by Gal Gabbai, said they were coerced into receiving injections of Depo-Provera, a long-acting birth control drug, both at Jewish-run health clinics in Ethiopia and after their move to Israel.

Rachel Mangoli, executive director of the WIZO chapter in Katz Village, told the TV show that she realized something was amiss when during a full year in her Ethiopian program just one Ethiopian baby was born.

“I went to the health clinic and I was told that Ethiopian immigrants were given the contraception because they couldn’t be relied upon to take the pills every day,” Mangoli said.

In the report, a woman identified as S. said she was told at the Jewish aid compound in Gondar, Ethiopia, “If you don’t get the shot, we won’t give you a ticket.”

She recalled, “I didn’t want to take it. They wanted me to take it. But I didn’t know it was a contraceptive,” she said. “I thought it was an immunization.”

Another Ethiopian interviewed for the program, Amawaish Alane, said, “We said we won’t accept the shot. They told us, ‘You won’t immigrate to Israel. You also won’t come into this clinic. You won’t get help and medical treatment.’ ”

“We had no choice,” Alane said. “That’s why we took the shot. We could only get out with their permission.”

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which runs the health clinics in Ethiopia for prospective immigrants to Israel, says it offers contraception among its array of services but that it is purely voluntary.

“At no time did JDC coerce anyone into engaging at family planning at its clinics. Those options were totally voluntary and offered to women who requested it,” a JDC spokesman in New York said. “They chose the form of contraceptive based on being fully informed of all the options available to them.”

The TV program alleged that coercive contraceptive tactics continued once the Ethiopians immigrated to Israel, where health clinics have been administering the contraceptive shots. The shots, which must be taken every three months, normally are given to women who cannot be relied upon to take daily pills, such as the mentally ill, according to health experts cited in the program.

The TV show sent a hidden camera into an Israeli health clinic, where an employee told the undercover reporter that Ethiopian women are given the contraceptive shots “because they forget,” “explanations are difficult for them” and “they essentially don’t understand anything.”

The Israeli Health Ministry has denied any systematic suppression of Ethiopian pregnancy or coerced contraception.

Watch the show here (Hebrew):

A Webb of Giving

During the Holocaust, Max Webb made two promises: one to his mother and one to God.

“I told my mother, I will be hanged, I will be shot, but I would not die from starvation,” Webb recalled. To God, he vowed to someday help the Jewish people if God helped him survive the Shoah.

Webb kept both his promises: despite five long years of slave labor and a death march in 1945, Webb did not succumb to starvation; he was liberated from Waldenburg on May 8, 1945, the only member of his immediate family to survive the Holocaust. In memory of his family and following through on the promise he made to God, Webb created The Max Webb Family Foundation in 1962.

Since then, dozens of Jewish institutions have been recipients of Webb’s generosity, including Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO), which supports Israeli social and educational causes. On Nov. 10 , Webb, 85, and his wife, Anna, 72, will serve as the honorary co-chairs of WIZO’s annual gala fundraiser.

The wall space of Webb’s downtown Beverly Hills office is dense with the numerous awards and certificates from several charitable organizations, both Jewish and non-Jewish: The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Casa Loma College, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation Institute, Sinai Temple and Shalhevet High School.

In Jewish Los Angeles, Webb is always in high demand. On this particular Friday, he was scheduled to attend a private reception for former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at the Beverly Hills home of Magbit founder Parviz Nazarian.

“Every Jewish cause is a good cause,” said Webb, who has an affinity for supporting education efforts.

In 1974, Saul Kest, the late real estate developer, got Webb involved with the Brooklyn-based Yeshiva Gedolah Imrei Yosef D’spinka, a nonprofit Orthodox school, by introducing him to the school’s founder, the late Rabbi Moshe Weiss. In 1999, Webb completed a second building for the school — a 50,000-square-foot, five-story edifice that houses 27 apartments.

“If I start something, I work on it until I put it on the map,” said Webb, who helped endow the $3 million Los Angeles Holocaust Monument at Pan Pacific Park and donated the first million toward the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

His projects are made possible by his thriving home-building business, which he started with his brothers-in-law shortly after moving to the United States from Germany in 1951, with his wife, Sala, whom he married after the war. After Sala died in 1990, Webb remarried in 1993 to Anna Hitter — a friend he had known for 40 years through Congregation Beth Israel of Los Angeles and came from the jewelry wholesale business.

Max has two daughters, Rose and Chara, and Anna has a son, Steve, and a daughter, Sabrina. Together, the couple has promoted Jewish education.

“They both see Jewish education as the key to the survival of the Jewish people,” said Ron Solomon, executive director of West Coast Friends of Bar-Ilan University.

Next year, the Webbs will celebrate their 10-year anniversary with the May 2003 opening of Bar-Ilan’s Anne and Max Webb Psychology Building. Webb contributed $5.5 million of the building’s $12 million price tag, with the difference matched by the Israeli government.

“Anna is an amazing inspiration for him,” said Rosalie Lurie, the Western Region executive director of American Friends of Tel Aviv University, who has known Webb for 17 years. “They do everything together.”

Webb started Tel Aviv University in the 1960s with $5 million in seed money. Several years ago, he financed a language building on the school’s campus where 57 languages, including Yiddish, are taught.

The couple’s work with WIZO is no exception. “I wish that we had more people like Anna and Max Webb,” said Malka Fogel, co-vice president of WIZO USA (West). “They’re very generous, very philanthropic people who contribute every year to WIZO and the community.”

During the gala the Webbs are co-chairing, WIZO must raise $250,000 to maintain programming and provide security at two daycare centers in Yavneh and Ramat Shikma.

“Those centers are in the poorest areas in Israel,” Fogel said. “In each day care center, we have 100 children” from Russian and Ethiopian new immigrant families.

At the end of the day, Webb does not take his existence for granted.

“God gave me a gift,” Webb said. “When I get up in the morning, I thank God he gave me another day. I survived, and I’m not going to take the money with me. So this is my life.”

Women’s International Zionist Organization will hold its Los Angeles Annual Gala on Nov. 10 at the Four Seasons in West Hollywood. For more information, call (323) 655-6886 or visit