Archives for August 2012

Modern Slavery in Israel: It’s All Politics

The Algemeiner

August 19, 2012

By Rebecca Hughes

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. [Read more…]

It’s All Politics

Several days ago, I was awakened by a phone call from a very annoyed man. “I’m calling from the Knesset,” he said. “You’ve been sending us letters.” His tone was accusatory and I was guilty as charged. I along with 126 others have indeed been sending emails to the Members of Knesset. In the past five months we sent 1,904 emails urging MKs to pass MK Orit Zuaretz’s proposed legislation to criminalize the purchase of sexual services.

I was pleased to be speaking with someone who realized that combating sex trafficking and prostitution belongs near the top of our government’s to-do list, given that there are many thousands of prostituted persons in Israel, many of whom are children. Although procuring is illegal in Israel, 90% of these women and children are owned by pimps and experience violence at their hands or the hands of their clients. A responsible society would ask, ‘Why are these numbers so high? Why are there tens of thousands 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.

“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.”

“What?” I asked.

“I said, ‘What you must to understand is that it is all politics,’” he repeated. “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 with whom I’ve spoken believe the bill has already passed. Yet the bill’s progress, once full of momentum, has slowed. Sadly, for Israel 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.”

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 yet another example of our government’s 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.

My conversation ended when the man from the Knesset hung up. Before hanging up he left with me with the distinct impression he’s had enough of my letters. I’ve decided to stay in touch. I want another answer – one that couples principles with politics. I want another answer as to why this legislation hasn’t yet passed and I think that the rest of Israel does, too.


To sign up with Project 119’s lobbying to pass legislation criminalizing the purchase of sexual services in Israel, please contact Rebecca.

‘Women to Go’ Makes Its International Debut

On July 1, ‘Women to Go’ made its debut in North America. The Task Force on Human Trafficking with the help of event organizer, Phyllis Nutkis, brought the campaign to Evanston, Illinois. Women to Go forcefully confronts society with the evils of trafficking and prostitution by exposing these underground crimes in a public space. During a Women to Go event, women with price tags are placed in a storefront as if for sale, while volunteers explain the demonstration to passersby.

The event in Evanston focused on Backpage, a classified advertising site with an adult section. “There’s a tremendous number of ads that look like they’re for individual women offering their services, but really most of those are placed by pimps,” explained Phyllis. At the event, Phyllis and her volunteers collected 609 signatures on a petition urging Backpage to discontinue advertisements for sexual services.

The event was hosted by Williams Next Door, a small family owned women’s boutique. In addition to providing TFHT with the space, Williams Next Door also donated 10% of their sales that day to the campaign. Zoe Lembeck, one of the store’s owners, explained, “As soon as we heard about this, we jumped at the chance to be a part of it. We loved the creative presentation along with the informative and pragmatic side of it. Being part of this event feels exciting and relevant as a woman, and as a business owner.”

Although Phyllis hails from Chicago, she is one of TFHT’s most active volunteers. In addition to staging Women to Go Phyllis is also a lobbyist for Project 119. Phyllis credits her family who “…were always fighting for social justice,” with making social action an integral part of her everyday life. “I’ve been hearing about ATZUM’s work for years, and it’s inspiring. I always wanted to be a part of what ATZUM does, and this was something I could do.”

Organizing the event was at times challenging, though Phyllis maintains the “right person with the right skills would find it manageable.” She explains, “The rewards are many – meeting and working with dedicated, interesting, passionate volunteers; learning all kinds of new skills you didn’t know you had; and most of all knowing that you’ve done something really good and important in the world.”

If you are inspired by Phyllis’ success and want to contribute to the fight against human trafficking, host a Women-to-Go event in your community. To find out more, please e-mail Rebecca.


The Task Force on Human Trafficking debuted as Women to Go in Tel Aviv in October 2010.  The daylong event considerably raised public awareness about proposed legislation to criminalize the purchase of sexual services in Israel. Shalmor-Avnon-Amichay/Y&R, an Israeli advertising agency, designed the campaign for TFHT. The success of the Tel-Aviv event inspired TFHT to export Women to Go to different cities.

TFHT Participates in “A Dialogue Between Cultures” Conference

On July 24, ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking (TFHT) participated in the Knesset conference “Dialogue Between Cultures and the Fight against Human Trafficking: the Cultures of Eastern Asia” organized by Rachel Gershuni, Israel’s Ministry of Justice National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator. The Conference aimed to educate non-profit organizations and law enforcement and government officials about cultural differences that make identifying and assisting victims of human trafficking from East Asia challenging.

Israel is a destination country for low-skilled workers from Thailand, China, Nepal, the Philippines, India and Sri Lanka. Although many of these men and women come to Israel voluntarily for contract labor in the construction, agriculture, healthcare, and domestic care industries, some face conditions of forced labor. This includes unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, failure to pay wages, threats, sexual abuse and physical intimidation. Once in Israel, these men and women are vulnerable to being targeted for forced labor and sex trafficking. Additionally, labor recruitment agencies in Israel usually require workers pay recruitment fees of $1,000 to $10,000, a practice often resulting in workers suffering debt bondage.

When asked whether or not Ms. Gershuni considered the conference a success, she replied that she “fulfilled a personal dream by organizing this event,” and that it was the start of what she hoped would be a “larger conversation.” Ms. Gershuni plans to host the event in several other cities in Israel to continue to educate people about the importance of sensitivity to cultural differences while providing victims of trafficking with the assistance they require.