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.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    JNS.org – Today’s comedy superstars, especially those whose careers are driven by television, may very well owe their success to pioneering Jewish entertainer Milton Berle. Born Mendel Berlinger in Manhattan in 1908, Berle became America’s first small-screen star. Aptly nicknamed “Mr. Television,” he influenced and helped promote the work of hundreds of younger comics. “Milton Berle was deceptively successful and very Jewish,” says Lawrence Epstein, author of The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America, published the year [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    JNS.org – Idan Ravin’s friends chipped in to buy him a humble but life-changing bar mitzvah gift—a basketball hoop his father attached to the roof of his garage. Little did his friends know that years later, he would be the personal trainer of National Basketball Association (NBA) stars Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, and Stephen Curry. Ravin’s new book, “The Hoops Whisperer: On the Court and Inside the Head of Basketball’s Best Players,” details his rise from a Jewish upbringing [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs 10 New Hollywood Movies That Aim to Show Support for Israel (SATIRE)

    10 New Hollywood Movies That Aim to Show Support for Israel (SATIRE)

    Ten major film studios are currently in production on projects that promote a decidedly pro-Israeli narrative. In famously liberal Hollywood, such a development has left mouths agape and set tongues a wagging. Since the Jewish State began defending itself from the thousands of rockets that Hamas has hurled at it – as well as ongoing terror attacks and murders, the overwhelming number of Tinseltown’s producers, directors, actors, and studio moguls have remained indifferent to the plight of millions of Israeli [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Israel Sports So Close: Israeli Judoka Loses Crown in World Cup Final, Finishes With Silver (VIDEO)

    So Close: Israeli Judoka Loses Crown in World Cup Final, Finishes With Silver (VIDEO)

    Israeli Judoka Yarden Gerbi (63kg), 25, of Netanya, on Thursday lost the final round at the Judo World Cup, and her world title to Clarisse Agbegnenou of France, at a match held in Russia. “I have mixed feelings,” Gerbi told Israeli Army radio. But, “I shouldn’t assume that I’d win the world Judo championship twice in a row,” she admitted. Gerbi won gold in Rio De Janeiro last year. “When I made my decision, I knew it was going to [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity Surviving the Holocaust by Hiding Their Faith (REVIEW)

    Surviving the Holocaust by Hiding Their Faith (REVIEW)

    “Jews Out!” was just the name of a child’s game that three little girls played in World War II Europe. But all is not as it seems because the three girls were Jewish, but hiding their true identities. In award-winning author R. D. Rosen’s riveting non-fiction work, Such Good Girls, “Jews Out!” wasn’t a game; it was a struggle for survival. The girls, Sophie, Flora, and Carla, grew up at a time and a place that did not allow them [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities Twenty Years On, the Real and Radical Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

    Twenty Years On, the Real and Radical Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

    JNS.org – “He was part hippie, part yippie, part beatnik, and part New Age,” wrote Elli Wohlgelernter in a Jerusalem Post eulogy in 1994, following the Oct. 20 passing of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Twenty years later, more robust accounts of Carlebach’s life have come to the surface. Earlier this year, Natan Ophir published the book Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission & Legacy. This past summer, Rabbi Shlomo Katz’s The Soul of Jerusalem hit the shelves. But even the authors will admit [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Beatlemania Invades the Gaza Strip (SATIRE)

    Beatlemania Invades the Gaza Strip (SATIRE)

    As Hamas loses its grip on power in the Gaza Strip as a result of war, poverty and disillusionment, the Islamist terrorist group has developed an ingenious way to raise the morale of the 1.7 million Palestinian Arabs it was elected to serve. While currently focused on delivering a rocket into every Israeli home, Hamas has not left its own people behind. To gently wipe away the tears of children strategically placed inside kindergartens as human shields, the Hamas Interior Ministry [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    In a strong statement that challenges the historic divide between Christianity and Judaism, Pope Francis recently proclaimed, “Inside every Christian is a Jew.” But if you look at Renaissance artworks that depict Jesus, you will not find any evidence of a Jew inside the Christianized Jesus — even though the Gospels in the New Testament tell us that Jesus was Jewish to the core. Getting that point across to the public is a daunting task, as I learned in interviews I [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.