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‘Haaretz’ Corrects Forced-Contraception Story

Over a month too late, an explosive story loses its bite

Adam Chandler
March 08, 2013

There was no shortage of outrage following a report by Haaretz in late Janaury asserting that Israel had acknowledged a policy of forcing long-acting birth control shots upon Ethiopian women in transit camps who wished to emigrate from Ethiopia to Israel. The story also charged that Israeli officials hadn’t told the women the effects of the Depo-Provera shots. The explosive first of the story went like this:

A government official has for the first time acknowledged the practice of injecting women of Ethiopian origin with the long-acting contraceptive Depo-Provera.

Beyond the normal outlets that selectively focus on Israeli scandals, sites that report on women’s issues reprinted the Haaretz story and, in multiple acts of stenographic journalism, cast their vicious judgments of Israeli racism and sexism to their readerships.

The first problem with the story: No Israeli official ever acknowledged there was such a practice at all; it was denied by Joint Distribution Committe, which ran the clinics, and the Health Ministry. (The Scroll was able to convince the popular site Jezebel to retract a damning first line after the story had already blown up and commenters had accused Israel of committing genocide.)

After an Israeli committee was established to investigate the matter, a second story ran in Haaretz last week repeating much of its original reporting. Then, earlier this week, came this correction (compelled by CAMERA):

This article, which was updated on March 6, 2013, reported on Health Ministry director-general Prof. Roni Gamzu’s instruction to gynecologists not to renew prescriptions for Depo-Provera if there is any doubt that recipients did not understand the implications of the treatment. The original version failed to state that this instruction was issued “without taking a stand or determining facts about allegations that had been made,” and referred to all women and not just women of Ethiopian origin.

So not only had the head of the Health Ministry not admitted the practice, he had–of his own volition and not under duress from scandal–issued a directive for doctors to make sure that all women (and not just Ethiopian women in transit camps) fully understood what the shots would do.

At this point, I have really no idea where the truth is in this highly unnerving and disquieting story, but the distance from where the story started and where it is now is unacceptable. We can give Haaretz credit for issuing a correction at all, but the amount of damage this story has done to Israel’s reputation will never be fully known.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.