Sisterhood Blog

Bill Targets Israeli 'Johns'

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

  • Print
  • Share Share

Update, February 12, 2012

Visiting a prostitute in Israel is expected to become a crime in coming days, after a bill that will make the use of sexual services in Israel illegal passed the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday. According to the Jerusalem Post: “The bill, which was also supported by a large number of Knesset members from across the political spectrum, will be brought to a vote in the plenum on Wednesday and is likely to pass without any hitches now that it has full government backing.”

It’s tough to admit, but Israelis just don’t get very worked up about prostitution. In a country with a long laundry list of worries concerns, it seems like the most benign of practices, and an inescapable fact of life. This nonchalant attitude stems from the fact that neither selling one’s body nor purchasing sexual services is a crime in Israel.

The practice of “pimping” and the business of running brothels are illegal. But when I lived in a very respectable neighborhood in Tel Aviv in the 1990s, a ground-floor apartment in my building held the ‘clinic’ of a female doctor and an unspecified specialty. The same landlord who rented the apartment to me, an upstanding lawyer, also rented out the apartment that housed the clinic. The patients made their way in and out very furtively. You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what was likely going on in that clinic and what kind of ‘ailment’ was being treated. But no one seemed to be bothered.

The hooker with a heart of gold has been a staple character of Israeli films. The classic 1978 teen sex comedy “Lemon Popsicle,” which was remade in the U.S. into the hit “The Last American Virgin,” portrayed a group of teenage boys coming of age in the 1950s going to a professional to lose their virginity. It’s played utterly for humor and nostalgia, in a country where neither selling oneself nor purchasing sexual services is a criminal offense. This Hebrew-language Honda commercial shows a man picking up a prostitute forgetting that his wife and kids were in the back seat. The tagline: “You forget it’s a family car.”

But many organizations have been working diligently to remove the whitewash that pretties up the image of prostitution and point out the violent and tragic consequences of the sex industry in Israel. Police have cracked down on the human trafficking of women from Eastern Europe and the Third World into slavery in Israeli brothels. But with demand for prostitutes still high, this only resulted in more intense recruitment of Israeli women into the profession.

The lifeblood of the industry are young teenage girls from difficult backgrounds, who are targeted by pimps, and lured into a life of drugs, degradation, that completely erodes their sense of self-worth and erases their potential for a productive future. Most of these women and girls are ‘imported’ into brothels from abroad, but Israeli teenagers have been increasingly falling into the clutches of the industry, some as young as 11 and 12 years old.

A push is on in the Knesset to criminalize the purchase of sexual services. A committee vote set to take place on Sunday. If legislation, proposed by MK Orit Zuaretz, is passed — a similar effort failed two years ago — prostitution consumers, better known as “johns,” could face jail time, and other consequences.

The non-profit organization Atzum and its Task Force on Human Trafficking is working to rally support for the legislation. This week, the group organized demonstrations not only in Jerusalem, but also in Washington, New York and London, to show support for the legislation that would curb what Atzum executive director Rabbi Levi Lauer calls “a form of modern slavery.”

According to Atzum, the legislation is based on laws that have been enacted in Sweden, Iceland, Norway, and most recently in France. The group contends that the laws have resulted in significant declines in prostitution, sex trafficking and the organized crime that feeds off of the industry.

It’s no secret that the clients of prostitutes come from all walks of life and sectors of society. Lauer referred to this in a media interview when he said previous efforts to criminalize purchase of sex services failed because “there are too many important people who themselves solicit the services of trafficked women” and “because there are too many people in important places with too many important friends would get caught with their pants down.”

We will see on Sunday if the Knesset committee has the fortitude to pull these pants up, pass the legislation and address this problem.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sex Trafficking, Prostitution, Orit Zuaretz

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.

Find us on Facebook!
  • 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.
  • “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:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • 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.