Washington, May 2 - Israel is enacting policies to improve its record on women trafficking and prostitution even as there is much more progress to be made, a leading parliamentarian said at a press briefing sponsored by The Israel Project.
Kadima MK Orit Zuaretz has gained worldwide attention from women’s rights campaigns for her bill that specifically targets the customers of prostitutes while also cracking down on other elements of women’s trafficking. The measure, which offers either a six-month jail sentence or therapy to convicts, passed a preliminary committee reading in February this year.
“We have to fight the phenomena and reach the criminals,” Zuaretz said. “The customers are the fuel of the engine in the trafficking world.”
Israel’s sex industry generates at least an estimated 2.4 billion NIS in revenue per year, according to various sources. It is estimated that 15,000 individuals work in the prostitution industry in Israel, including 5,000 minors.
The State Department rates the country as a “Tier 2” nation for sex trafficking, a lower grade than most Western countries and a major motivation for her efforts, according to Zuaretz
“Israel is a destination country for men and women subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking,” the State Department wrote in its 2011 report on the matter, while also noting that “the Israeli government made sustained progress in preventing trafficking in persons over the reporting period.”
Zuaretz said that Israel also has had to adapt to dealing with women trafficked from Africa being moved through the porous and lawless Sinai peninsula.
“We have to deal with the new phenomena with victims coming from Egypt, Sinai, Africa, and we have to change the approach,” she said in a TIP conference call following the briefing.
Zuaretz touted other related legislation she has introduced in the Knesset, including one that bans newspaper advertisements for prostitution which was passed and sentences offenders to three years in prison.
In December, Israel’s Supreme Court upheld a government decision to disband a police unit that combats women trafficking after Zuaretz and two NGOs challenged the move.
Such developments, Zuaretz said, highlight the challenges remaining for anti-trafficking advocacy in Israel.
“There is a long way ahead to fight this phenomenon totally,” she said.