Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Modern Slavery in Israel: It’s All Politics

August 19, 2012 3:59 am 1 comment

Member of Knesset Orit Zuartez meets with student activists at the kick-off meeting for ATZUM's 'Project 119' in early January.

Several days ago, I awoke to the sound of my phone ringing off the hook.  A very annoyed man was on the line. “I’m calling from the Knesset,” he said. “You’ve been sending us letters.” His tone was accusatory, but I was guilty as charged.

Championing ATZUM’s “Project 119,” 127 volunteers – myself included – have been sending numerous e-mails to the Members of Knesset.  Over the last five months, we have sent 1,904 e-mails urging MKs to pass MK Orit Zuaretz’s proposed legislation to criminalize the purchase of sexual services.

Though he was clearly less than happy to be talking to me, I was pleased to be speaking with him.  Clearly, I thought, this was someone who realized that combating sex trafficking and prostitution belongs near the top of our government’s ‘To Do’ list, seeing as there are thousands of prostituted individuals in Israel, many of whom are children. Although procuring is illegal in Israel, 90% of these women and children are owned by others and experience violence at the hands of their pimps or their clients.

A responsible society would ask, ‘Why are these numbers so high? Why are there tens of thousands of visits made every month to prostituted persons in Israel?’ The answer is simple – there is inadequate enforcement of anti-procuring and anti-trafficking legislation, thus allowing men to exploit one of our country’s most vulnerable populations without fear of punishment.

But there is good news. MK Zuaretz’s proposed progressive legislation to criminalize the purchase of sexual services is designed to eradicate this violation of human rights. Similar legislation passed in Sweden, Iceland, Norway, and France, has seen the rate of sex trafficking decline 45%-65% and has led to significant decreases in the prostitution of minors.  The idea behind the legislation is to place criminal responsibility on those who choose to participate in an industry that is responsible for kidnapping, rape, child abuse, violence against women, and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

So, I proudly fessed up to my ‘misdeeds’ to my mystery caller.

“Yes, I have been sending you letters,” I said. “Thank you for being in touch with me. I wanted to ask…”  He cut me off.

“What you must understand is that it is all politics,” he began. “It can’t be moved forward. We don’t have the votes, and without the votes what is the point of putting the bill on the table?”

“Surely, this is about more than politics,” I protested.

He assured me it wasn’t.

His answer surprised me. After all, the hard part of getting this bill passed was supposedly behind us. In February, the Ministerial Committee gave the legislation its unanimous recommendation. Due to coalition obligations the rest of the process was supposed to be a mere formality. In fact, many Israelis we consulted with believe that the bill has already been passed. Yet the bill’s progress, once full of momentum, has slowed. Sadly, the momentum has been lost to partisan, socially regressive politics.

“There has been some legislation we have waited 60 years to pass. We have to wait until the time is right,” the man explained to me.

“Are you telling me we might have to wait 60 more years for this legislation?” I asked. “What about the women and children prostituted and trafficked right now? What are we supposed to do about that?”

“It’s not about that,” he said. “It’s really all about the politics.”

He then ended the call by simply hanging up, but not before leaving with me with the distinct impression that he’s had enough of my letters. Still, I’ve decided to stay in touch. I want a real answer, one that couples principles with politics. I want an answer as to why this legislation hasn’t yet passed, and I believe that the rest of Israel does, too.

Amos Oz has spoken of the “affront and outrage” Israelis are experiencing over the government’s indifference to the people’s suffering. To me, this conversation was an example of government indifference. Israelis deserve more than indifference. We deserve a government defined by its will to serve and protect its citizens. We deserve a government that understands that progress, however difficult to achieve, should be vigorously pursued.

Rebecca Hughes is the Assistant Projects Coordinator for ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking (www.atzum.org), an entity that aims to engage the public and government agencies to confront and eradicate modern slavery in Israel.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Blogs Sports Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas will wear a leotard bearing Hebrew lettering when she competes at the P&G Gymnastics Championships over the weekend. Douglas’ Swarovski-outlined outfit will feature the Hebrew word “Elohim,” meaning God, on its left sleeve. The Hebrew detailing honors the athlete’s “rich heritage of faith,” according to apparel manufacturer GK Elite, which produced the leotard and released a preview of it on Wednesday. The company said Douglas’ sister, Joyelle “Joy” Douglas, created the Hebrew design. The outcome of the P&G Championships will help […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    Britain’s world heavyweight champion, Taylor Fury, should be banned from boxing for making Nazi-like comments, a former world champion from the Ukraine said on Thursday, ahead of their upcoming match. “I was in shock at his statements about women, the gay community, and when he got to the Jewish people, he sounded like Hitler,” Wladimir Klitschko told British media, according to Reuters. “We cannot have a champion like that. Either he needs to be shut up or shut down in the ring, or […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Hanoch Hecht just made television history; but, unfortunately, he couldn’t have his rugelach and eat it too. Hecht became the first rabbi to compete on the hit show “Chopped,” where contestants are forced to use four random ingredients in their recipes, and have 20-30 minutes to create an appetizer, a main course and a dessert. A contestant is eliminated after each round. Hecht, 32, said that while the dishes and utensils were new, the kitchen was not kosher, so he couldn’t taste […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox singer and entertainer Lipa Schmeltzer is starring in a new Pepsi Max commercial for the company’s campaign in Israel. The commercial begins with a bunch of Jewish men eating at a restaurant, when Schmeltzer walks in and tries to decide what to order. An employee at the obviously Israeli eatery offers him a variety of foods, but the entertainer in the end decides on a bottle of Pepsi. Everyone in the restaurant then joins him, drinking Pepsi Max and dancing to […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Book Reviews Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    JNS.org – “Writing is a messy process,” says author Elizabeth Poliner. “People who don’t write fiction would be surprised to see what early drafts could look like.” But readers wouldn’t know “what a mess it was for the longest time,” as the Jewish author puts it, when reading Poliner’s critically acclaimed latest book, As Close to Us as Breathing. The volume garnered Amazon’s “Best Book” designation in March 2016 as well as rave reviews from the New York Times,W Magazine, NPR, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Sundance Tour Features Short Film About Elderly Jewish Woman’s Decision to Eat Bacon for First Time

    Sundance Tour Features Short Film About Elderly Jewish Woman’s Decision to Eat Bacon for First Time

    The Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour, which started on Friday in New York City, features a mini-documentary about an elderly Jewish woman whose journey away from Orthodoxy leads her to taste forbidden food for the first time in her life. In Canadian director Sol Friedman’s Bacon & God’s Wrath, Razie Brownstone talks about ending her lifelong observance of keeping kosher as her 90th birthday approaches. The recently declared atheist said the discovery of the search engine Google spurred a lapse in her Jewish faith and made her decide to […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Food Chabad Rabbi From New York Competes on Food Network’s ‘Chopped’ Cooking Competition

    Chabad Rabbi From New York Competes on Food Network’s ‘Chopped’ Cooking Competition

    A Chabad rabbi from Rhinebeck, NY, will face off a priest, a pastor and a nun-in-training in an upcoming episode of the Food Network‘s reality show, “Chopped,” Lubavitch.com reported. Rabbi Hanoch Hecht – who teaches up-and-coming chefs about the intricacies of kosher dietary laws at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) — was nominated for the show by a professional chef, and went through a rigorous interview process at the Food Network’s studios in Chelsea, NY. Months later, he was informed he had been accepted as a contestant in the popular TV cooking competition. “I thought […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Religion, Politics, and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief (BOOK REVIEW)

    Religion, Politics, and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief (BOOK REVIEW)

    Religion, Politics and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief by Asaf Romirowsky & Alexander H. Joffe (Palgrave Macmillan; 2013) Although this book came out several years ago, it remains pertinent. This is a meticulously researched book that concentrates on a very small bit of history: the time period from 1948-50 when the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group, was organizing refugee relief in Gaza. Before UNRWA, the UN created the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees (UNRPR). It outsourced […]

    Read more →