Sisterhood Blog

Israel's Prostitution Bill, and the MKs Blaming the Exploited

By Elana Sztokman

  • Print
  • Share Share

A man goes to a prostitute, and then blames her for making him sin. No, this is not the beginning of a joke. Rather, it’s the argument currently being made by Knesset members from the (all male) Shas party in a current round of deliberations about the legality of prostitution.

At issue is a bill recently introduced by Kadima Knesset member Orit Zuaretz, seen at right, outlawing the solicitation of a prostitute. Actually, the Zuaretz bill makes solicitation punishable with six months in prison only after the second arrest. First time offenders will be sent to a form of rehab that includes mandatory attendance at seminars on public health and human dignity, as well as lectures given from former prostitutes about the harrowing conditions of their lives. The bill is based on the Sweden model, where a 1999 law punished those soliciting and not those being solicited — and resulted in the number of women working as prostitutes shrinking by two-thirds.

“This is a revolutionary law,” Zuaretz said, “because it punishes the clients — consumers of prostitution — as criminals and forces them to take responsibility for their behavior.” Zuaretz argues that “this is the only way to protect women being trafficked as prostitutes, and not by proposals for organizing prostitution as a supposed profession — because it is not a profession, and is not done by free choice.” Knesset member Zevulun Orlev agrees. “It’s not enough to punish the pimps and the traffickers but in order to dry up the swamp and to reduce demand, we have to hit the clients themselves.”

The bill was introduced during a special session of the Committee on the Trafficking of Women. According to the findings of a 2005 Knesset Inquiry, some 3000–5000 women are smuggled into Israel annually and sold into prostitution, and many live in sub-human conditions.

Traffickers take away the women’s passports before selling them on to pimps, and sometimes women are subjected to human auctions, where they are stripped, examined and sold for $8,000-$10,000.The United Nations named Israel as one of the main destinations in the world for trafficked women. The U.S. State Department also lists Israel as a Tier 2 offender in the Trafficking in Persons report.

According to Vered Lee writing in Haaretz:

Criminalizing the consumption of commercialized sex seems such an obvious step that it’s not clear why it has not long been part of our law. In other criminal areas such as gambling and drugs, the law has seen the purchasers as offenders from the start, even if not the main culprits. … Still, [consumers of prostitution] have avoided prosecution, and it’s the victims who are frequently arrested in brothel raids. … The double standards are nicely illustrated linguistically, with the pejoratives ‘prostitute’ or ‘whore’ used for the women, while the men are called ‘customers’ or ‘clients.’ The new bill would put an end to this kind of sanitization of language; the purchasers would be tagged as criminals, not clients. The bodies of human beings, be they women, men or children, are not just another commodity; anyone who traffics in them in any way should be liable to punishment.

Unfortunately, not everyone sees it quite this way. According to Shas legislators, the main opponents of this groundbreaking bill, men are the victims and women are the criminals. “The women are the guilty ones in the prostitution industry, and men are just the victims, because women tempt them,” according to Knesset member Nissim Zeev, speaking at the hearing of the Committee on the Trafficking of Women last week.

Zuaretz responded that Zeev is expressing an “archaic, paternalistic position,” and that “it’s too bad that Zeev tries to take all responsibility off of men who are using desperate women for their own desires.” Still, this archaic position found expression elsewhere — including on Zuaretz’s own Facebook page. (Zuaretz was recently rated by Calcalist, by the way, as being the most responsive Knesset member to her constituents via Facebook. And disclaimer: I’m one of her “friends.”) One of her other “friends” commented on her wall: “I have never heard such a stupid idea… Every boor who knows human nature and a bit of history knows that such a law cannot work.”

The real obstacle to progress here is the idea that men cannot help themselves. It is “human nature” for the poor, victimized men to hump the nearest skirt when the opportunity presents itself, according to men like Zeev.

This misguided notion of “nature” is clearly at the root of women’s suffering. That, and the insistence of some men that they “know” everything there is to know about everything — even if they haven’t bothered to check out, for example, what’s happening in Sweden. Some men’s arrogant beliefs in their own natural need to conquer, as well as their own superior intelligence, are probably the greatest threat to women’s health.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Prostitution, Nissim Zeev, Orit Zuaretz, Israel, Human Trafficking

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.


Comments
Lisa B Tue. Jan 5, 2010

While I have no problem with the legalization of prostitution, I really hope this law passes. The level of humans trafficked through Israel is beyond shameful. The resistance of the religious parties though is probably less out of paternalism and rather more because the fact that they are huge consumers of prostitutes services (while insisting women sit on separate buses) will be quickly exposed.

Sephardiman Wed. Jan 6, 2010

To paraphrase my late mother-in-law, "what kind of animal," would oppose this bill?

Heather A Thu. Jan 7, 2010

How can women be called temptresses when they have been sold into sexual slavery? This situation is a black stain on Israel's human rights record.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.