Recognizing Righteous Rescuers in Israel and Poland

Channeling critical practical and human resources to “Righteous Rescuers (Hasiday Umot Olam) living in Israel who risked their lives to save Jews during the Shoah.

This population is aging and shrinking. Though there are only nine family units currently living in Israel, all are dear to us. Beyond visiting them regularly in their homes – of profound value to them – ATZUM serves as an advocate to ensure that other entities tasked with the responsibility to respond to the population’s practical needs do so, and step in when there is no other resource.  

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Photo; Tsila Lavi-Shalom, Coordinator of ATZUM’S Righteous Among the Nations Project, with program recipient.

Beyond this, we are now involved in a volunteer effort to coordinate a holiday and birthday card project from Israeli and gap-year students to Righteous Rescuers (Hasiday Umot Olam) in Poland.  Volunteers, with logistic support from ATZUM, will encourage schools and youth movements in Israel and abroad to join this effort. Their students will learn about the Righteous Rescuers’ heroism and then prepare cards to be distributed to them on their birthdays and holidays.  This initiative will be undertaken in conjunction with Polin – the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. Polin is in touch with 300 Polish citizens who rescued Jews during the Shoah.

TAKUM Currently Facilitating Three Betei Midrash

Beit Midrash TAKUMEngaging community professionals and grassroots volunteers in Israel and abroad through a nine-month, international social justice program integrating in-depth Jewish learning with activism.

TAKUM is a partnership with Yeshivat Talpiot, an egalitarian yeshiva committed to facilitating critical, open engagement with Jewish text and social crisis as a means of influencing activism. TAKUM, hosted at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University, seeks to bring Torah study to the streets in ways that urge action on behalf of others in need. This year, the project’s third, study and public service are focused on aiding Israel’s refugees and asylum seekers, as well as victims of prostitution and human trafficking.

This spring brings new energy to Beit Midrash TAKUM with the launch of two new cohorts: one in Jerusalem for established, experienced young professionals already involved in fields of social change, and the other for young students from Tel-Aviv University.

The Jerusalem cohort of 13 Fellows from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds work as teachers, social workers and community organizers. Some have previous experience in Beit Midrash learning.

The Tel-Aviv cohort of eight Fellows from Tel-Aviv University is quite different. All come to the Beit Midrash without experience with Jewish text study. All Fellows in this cohort volunteer in three Tel- Aviv NGOs working with refugees and asylum seekers, including:

Simultaneously, TAKUM’s first Jerusalem cohort of religiously diverse university students and recent graduates with minimal activist experience began in October 2015. Fellows in this cohort (as in the Tel- Aviv group) receive a modest stipend for their participation; undertake serious volunteer roles in lieu of tuition; and assist with refugee relief efforts and as part of ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution. This cohort is currently deeply involved in its volunteer work.

In March TFHT Fellows collaborated with student activist groups to organize a Hebrew University hosted public debate on prostitution in Israel society. Panelists included MK Shuli Mualem from Bayit Yehudi, a religious Zionist political party, and three speakers from NGOs dedicated to stopping prostitution. The event enabled recruitment of new Project 119 activists. (Project 119 is TFHT’s weekly campaign pairing individual MKs and Government Ministers with volunteers urging passage of Nordic Model legislation. The time commitment is minimal; the campaign’s impact is considerable.) The panel event effectively demonstrated to the TAKUM Fellows who organized the evening how they might impact public discourse.

Photo:  Avi Dabush, a community organizer and activist, addresses two TAKUM cohorts at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem in March 2016.

Photo: Avi Dabush, a community organizer and activist, addresses two TAKUM cohorts at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem in March 2016.

TFHT: Progress Towards Passage

It is a difficult process to move the Knesset and Israel’s political machines to recognize the urgent need to pass Nordic Model legislation, but THFT has made much progress. Our recently drafted legislation, more comprehensive than previous, leaner versions, has garnered wide support across party lines, only to be frustrated twice by the disbandment of the Knesset and new elections. After recent months of arduous meetings with MKs Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) and Zehava Galon (Meretz) and others, we have now reconstituted and expanded that base of support in advance of the pending re-submission of the legislation.

We are cautiously optimistic: the bill’s cross-party sponsors are adamant in seeking the coalition Government’s approval; public awareness of the evils of trafficking and the abuses of prostitution has grown exponentially; and high-profile instances of the suffering and suicide of prostituted women have attracted much media coverage, as have the instances of the sexual abuse of women by public figures. And, as this report is being prepared, it was announced that Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked called for the formation of a special committee to examine the possibility of making the purchase of prostitution a criminal offence.

Despite the forward motion, we remain aware of very resistant opposition to such legislation: an annual 1.2 billion NIS enterprise has well-connected attorneys; the Ministry of Justice is hesitant to add another offence to the penal code; and the constant distractions of terror attacks, Iranian threats, and the Government’s fear-mongering produce a climate less inclined to see the priority of at-risk citizens’ concerns.

Countering these challenges is the support and inspiration which comes from our donors, pro bono partners, and volunteers who join us in insisting on the betterment of the status of women and their well-being. Together our voices bellow in protest of the daily rape of thousands of prostituted and trafficked women and girls on our streets.

In anti-prostitution battle, Israel takes a trick out of Europe’s book

Justice Ministry to mull the popular ‘Nordic model’ of criminalizing the frequenting of sex workers, but Israelis aren’t sold on the idea

MARISSA NEWMAN, May 2, 2016, THE TIMES OF ISRAEL

You may glimpse them lingering, all decked out at Tel Aviv’s decrepit old bus station, loitering around the train station in Beersheba or soliciting customers on Haifa’s coastline. But apart from the occasional headline (such as when a long-time prostitute hanged herself in a Tel Aviv brothel), tucked away in so-called “discreet apartments,” Israel’s some 12,000 sex workers in the NIS 1.2 billion ($318 million) industry are largely invisible to many Israelis.

But the issue may soon head to the Knesset: The Justice Ministry announced last week it will form a committee to evaluate whether to criminalize paying for sex, broadly modeling itself on such countries as Sweden, Norway, and, as of earlier this month, France. The director-general of the Justice Ministry, Amy Palmer, will head the committee, and representatives from other ministries will be on it as well but have not yet been appointed, according to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s spokesperson.

While prostitution itself remains legal in Israel, pimping, sex trafficking, and running a brothel are punishable by law. The formation of the committee follows nearly a decade of efforts by female lawmakers to spearhead legislation to criminalize clients, primarily by Meretz’s Zehava Galon. From the other side of the aisle, the Jewish Home party’s Shuli Moalem-Rafaeli has recently backed her attempts. While it remains to be seen what the committee will recommend, if anything, the unlikely pair of lawmakers has in the past suggested fines or up to a year in jail for clients, with the option for first-time offenders to attend seminars on prostitution in lieu of criminal proceedings. Galon and Moalem-Refaeli are also proposing expanding welfare services for prostitutes. (In 2012, a similar bill by Galon and Kadima MK Orit Zuaretz was supported by the key Ministerial Committee for Legislation, but the government dissolved before it could be taken further.)

However, recent polls show Israelis may not be entirely on board with punishing people who hire prostitutes, even though they believe it will discourage the phenomenon. Meanwhile, critics have warned the bid would effectively demolish the notion that women have the right to sell their bodies, may worsen their conditions as prostitutes are forced to go underground, and creates an asymmetrical justice system that punishes clients but exonerates prostitutes.

According to the first comprehensive study of sex workers by the Welfare Ministry last month, most of them are Jewish, Israeli, mothers, over the age of 30 and from the former Soviet Union, and they entered the industry for financial reasons. On average, they see 5.5 clients per day. And 76 percent want to get out.

‘Every day I want to die from this work’

The Welfare Ministry report estimated there are some 11,420-12,730 sex workers in Israel, 95% of them women, 89% of whom are over 18. Between 970 and 1,260 (11%) are minors. The figures place the number of prostitutes per 100,000 Israelis at 121-128 — less than countries such as Austria, Belgium, Hungary, Sweden; more than the Czech Republic, Ireland, Norway, Denmark.

Some 97% of the women hold Israeli citizenship, and 86% are Jewish. Most are over 30 (70%), have at least one child (62%), and a slim majority (52%) were born in the former Soviet Union. The majority entered prostitution due to financial woes (66%), and 7% due to drug addiction. One-fifth have a college degree.

Some NIS 510 million ($135 million) is made annually in the 265 “discreet apartments,” 43% of the total yearly sum (1.2 billion in 2014) generated by the industry. Escort services racked up some NIS 220 million ($58 million) and massage parlors that offered sexual services NIS 190 million ($50 million). Street prostitution generated just NIS 70 million ($18 million) in yearly earnings, some 6% of the annual total. Some one-quarter of Israeli prostitutes see more than seven clients a day (the average is 5.5), according to the report.

Financial straits were found to be the force driving women to prostitution (66%), and for most (71%) it was the reason they stay (the remaining 23% said because “it suits them”). Most of the women said they want to leave (76%), 10% said they don’t, 7% don’t know, and 7% said “not right now.”

“The kids are getting older and already asking where Imma [mother] goes at night. I can’t keep lying all the time and tell them I’m a bartender,” said one anonymous participant in the poll, which interviewed 609 women face-to-face (all are cited anonymously).

“I’m sick of it. It’s very difficult, psychologically, you know. It’s not easy every day, every prostitution experience is unpleasant, I don’t get used to it. In my mind, I’m not a prostitute,” said another.

‘The kids are getting older and already asking where Imma [mother] goes at night’
“Every day I want to die from this work,” added a third.

Some were more noncommittal. “I don’t know — when I have money, I’ll leave. At least a million,” said one.

“I wanted to, but I looked into other work. Cleaning is not suitable for me, [prostitution] sometimes is,” the report quotes a woman as saying.

“Not really. Maybe when I get older, I’ll want to leave, and then maybe I’ll be a secretary.”

Others were insistent it suits them just fine: “I feel like this is my most productive period, and I also have patience for it. Then (28 years ago), I did as if I was forced to. Life forced me to. But today I do it with pleasure.”

(For the purpose of this article, a distinction is made between prostitution and sex trafficking, with the latter already illegal, although there is likely overlap. On sex trafficking, the US State Department in 2012 upgraded Israel to “tier 1” on human trafficking, indicating that the government complies with the minimum requirements to prevent the phenomenon, while urging it to impose stricter punishments on those behind it.)

Are all prostitutes victims?

Punishing prostitution clients was first introduced by Sweden in its 1999 Sex Purchase Act, which has since been adopted by Norway, Iceland, Canada, and Northern Ireland, and requires consumers to pay a fine or face up to six months in jail. Defending the apparent contradiction in making buying sex illegal but selling it legal, Sweden contended that prostitution is essentially an act of exploitation and violence by the customers, who hold a position of power and should bear the brunt of the penalty.

The debate was subsequently exported outside of Sweden, leaving countries divided on the issue. “Don’t liberate me, I’ll take care of myself!” a sign brandished by a sex worker on April 7 read, after France ruled a $4,000 fine would be levied on the clients of prostitutes.

Echoing the Swedish argument, Galon on April 18 maintained that “prostitution is sexual violence and enslavement of women, and in the vast majority of cases does not provide a livelihood for the women but rather for the pimps.”

“The deceptive liberal discourse about the right of women to sell their bodies ignores the power relations in the world of prostitution, and the power relations in the world as a whole. Prostitution, in its current form, can only exist in an unequal world in which it’s still okay to enslave women for men’s needs. A society that permits buying the bodies of women is broadcasting that all women can be bought,” she argued.

‘The deceptive liberal discourse about the right of women to sell their bodies ignores the power relations in the world of prostitution’
Outlining the opposition to plans to punish clients, researcher Yehuda Troan in a 2008 Knesset report noted the asymmetry in penalties was “problematic” to some.

“There are those who have fundamental reservations about the model of one-sided criminality, since it gives an exemption to the prostitutes who are also partners in the forbidden action. One-sided criminality is liable to send a message that a woman is permitted to work in prostitution, or could be interpreted as a social statement such as this, which is problematic to many,” he wrote.

Other issues listed include a problem of enforcement, since Israel’s police have a limited budget. The law will make it difficult to compile evidence, since prostitutes may be wary of cooperating and inclined to protect their clients, he argued. Moreover, a law against the clients could make it increasingly difficult for the security services to crack down on those running the operations, since it compromises the testimony of many of the witnesses, namely clients. Finally, it could force prostitutes to go underground, resulting in worse conditions, he maintained.

A September 2015 poll by the Welfare Ministry of 754 Israelis found that 54% were generally in favor of “legislation against the clients of prostitution services.” But when asked more pointedly whether clients should be “punished,” the figure dropped to 42%. The vast majority of respondents (83%) said the government ought to work to curb prostitution, but slightly more were in favor of the government permitting brothels to operate with regulation (59%) than those who support an outright ban (52%). In other words, the Israeli respondents were in favor of some sort of legislation, but likely one that wouldn’t include criminal penalties.

Support for punishing those who hire prostitutes was up compared to previous polls (22% in a 2007 Knesset poll commissioned by Galon were in favor; 43% in 2013), but the Welfare Ministry report noted that “it isn’t clear whether the change is a result of the phrasing (criminalizing vs. punishing) or that there increased support for punishing the clients.”

That isn’t to say Israelis don’t generally find prostitution harmful. Some 81% in the 2015 poll said it is a phenomenon that compromises human dignity, 70% agreed it is a social phenomenon that harms relationships between men and women, and 74% said they believed sex workers can’t leave this cycle without help. Israelis also believe the prostitutes frequently experience psychological harm (87%), physical harm (76%), rape (70%), and robbery (60%). At the same time, 55% said women have the right over their bodies, including to sell their bodies, and a majority were against punishing the prostitutes themselves (63%). And half (54%) said laws punishing the clients will reduce the phenomenon.

Touching on the disparity between public opposition and views of its efficacy, the 2008 Knesset report concluded: “Although the public’s views and expectations do not precisely forecast the legal influence, it appears the fact that most of the public does not believe that the client should be criminalized attests to a view of prostitution as legitimate and widespread dangers of noncompliance with the law, and therefore contempt of the law. On the other hand, it appears that the fact that most of the public sees that the proposed legislation will reduce the scope of prostitution strengthens the argument that the stigma of the crime that accompanies criminalizing the client — alongside educational and advocacy — is likely to effect normative, societal change.”

It also underlined a question about the relationship between the lack of public support and legislation: Should legislation reflect societal change, or create it?

The report cites Dr. Noya Rimalt of the University of Haifa, who testified in a 2007 hearing that although it’s better that public awareness drive legislation, there were cases in Israeli law where the laws drove the conversation, such as the strict sexual harassment laws in the 1990s and the ban on smoking in public areas.

“An educational process should precede legal change,” Rimalt said at the time, adding that “it doesn’t always work like that.”

NGO Report: Israel Fails to Crack Down on Human Trafficking

Government agencies aren’t cooperating enough and more sex workers are arriving from Eastern Europe than before, the report by Hotline for Refugees and Migrants says

Ilan Lior  Apr 26, 2016, HA’ARETZ

Human rights organizations are identifying far more victims of human trafficking than the state, a rights group says in a new report. According to the report, prepared by the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, about 80 percent of trafficking victims from the asylum-seeker community were identified last year by human rights organizations rather than state agencies. The Hotline itself identified 28 African asylum seekers as trafficking victims who had suffered torture in the Sinai Peninsula en route to Israel. At the organization’s urging, the state recognized 19 of them as trafficking victims, and four were released from Saharonim Prison.

The report adds that last year saw a rise in the number of women who came to Israel on tourist visas from Eastern Europe and were put to work in the sex industry. It says 11 such women, after being arrested on suspicion of engaging in prostitution, were deported by the Population, Immigration and Border Authority without any coordination with the police or examination of the circumstances that brought them to Israel. Even though the administrative tribunals that deal with such cases have harshly criticized this lack of coordination, there have been no signs of any improvement, the report says.

Over the past decade, Israel worked hard to improve its handling of human trafficking in order to earn a Tier-1 ranking on the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report, Hotline says. And as long as Israel was trying to improve its ranking, state agencies were careful to coordinate in an effort to end human trafficking. But in recent years, cooperation between the population authority and the police has deteriorated, the report says.
As a result, women arrested for prostitution are sometimes deported even before police have questioned them to find out whether they were trafficking victims, making it impossible for the police to find the traffickers.

The recent decision to allow visa-free travel from Ukraine and Moldova made it harder to monitor human trafficking from those countries, the report says. The report notes that for the past few years, the Justice Ministry has run courses for both judges on administrative tribunals and prison staffers on how to identify victims of trafficking and torture. Still, Hotline activists have repeatedly identified trafficking victims who were missed by prison staffers and tribunal judges.

“The numbers show that the perception of trafficking as something that has been eradicated in Israel has prevented the authorities from taking action against the new face of this phenomenon,” Hotline director Reut Michaeli said in a statement. “The characterization of women working in prostitution as offenders who have to be deported, not as survivors who need rehabilitation, is problematic and reminiscent of the late 1990s and early 2000s, a period when the trafficking of women in Israel was at its peak.”

The Justice Ministry said it only heard of the report when asked about it by Haaretz and wanted to study it before responding. Nevertheless, it added, the ministry department that coordinates the fight against human trafficking has overseen fruitful cooperation between all the relevant parties, including state agencies, the Knesset, Israeli NGOs and international organizations. It said this cooperation had been underway since the department’s establishment in 2006 so that “human trafficking has been significantly reduced in a manner that has gained international recognition.”

The police similarly said they hadn’t received the report and therefore couldn’t comment, adding they had no idea what the statistics were based on. But they said they were fighting trafficking resolutely in close cooperation with other state agencies and with scrupulous attention to the rights of both suspects and victims.
The population authority said that as soon as someone is identified as a trafficking victim, he or she is treated as per the regulations.

 

TFHT: Public Discourse

This year, ATZUM is increasing its reach by joining the human resources connected to two of its initiatives, TFHT and Beit Midrash TAKUM. The former, as noted, is focused on passing legislation based on the Nordic Model; the latter is a nine-month, international social justice program integrating in-depth, Jewish learning with activism.

On March 22, 2016, three TAKUM volunteers – two law students and one social work student – collaborated with two different Hebrew University student union groups to organize a panel event attended by 50 people. The event was chaired by Adv. Michal Leibel, TFHT Director. Speakers included Tali Koral, CEO of Machon Todaa (Awareness Center), who spoke about the need to expose the actions and responsibilities of the customer in the abuse and demoralization of girls and women; and Re’ut Guy, Director of Youth in Distress at Elem, who focused on teen prostitution.

20160322-TFHT-TAKUM

Photo: TFHT-sponsored panel discussion at Hebrew University, March 2016.

The keynote speaker was MK Shuli Moalem who addressed the moral imperative for Israel society to adopt binding legislation to render prostitution and the commoditization of women unacceptable. She related to data from a multi-year study of prostitution in Israel presented to the Knesset the same day. As reported in “Haaretz” on March 6, “The first-ever government survey into prostitution in Israel found…annual payments to sex workers amounted to an estimated 1.2 billion shekels ($308.2 million) in 2014. The survey by the [Social Affairs and Public Security Ministries] found there were between 11,420 and 12,730 prostitutes in Israel that year, 95 percent of them female. The data…showed that each sex worker had approximately 660 clients a year [and] as many as 1,260 minors were employed as prostitutes or at risk of [entering] prostitution.”

MK Moalem praised the TFHT event, emphasizing the importance of public discourse on a subject too rarely discussed. Indeed, before the event, most people admitted to being unaware that prostitution is legal in Israel. Most are now unwilling to allow it to continue under society’s radar.

TFHT: International Update

In 1999, Sweden introduced groundbreaking law, the first country to criminalize the john rather than punish the prostitute. Gunilla Ekberg, the Swedish government’s lead official on prostitution, described the model as looking at prostitution as a form of male sexual violence, noting her country’s law focuses “…on the root cause, the recognition that without men’s demand for and use of women and girls for sexual exploitation, the global prostitution industry would not…flourish and expand.”

Other countries have since adopted that Nordic Model: Norway in 2008, Iceland in 2009, Canada in 2014 and Northern Ireland in 2015, not long after the European parliament approved a resolution calling for the law to be adopted throughout the continent. In April 2016, the French Parliament also adopted such legislation. TFHT lauds France’s government for stepping up and doing the right thing, yet another country reinforcing the message that societies need to reach out to prostituted people as victims and not treat them as social pariahs.

Intnl-update

TFHT: Another Step Forward: Will Israel Follow France?

Earlier this month, France became the fifth country, after Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Britain, to pass law based on the Nordic Model, the international standard designed to criminalize the purchase of sexual services and protect the prostituted person, nearly always a girl or woman forced into sexual servitude. Countries that have adopted the Nordic Model have seen a considerable reduction in prostitution.

Urging passage of such legislation in Israel has been one of the primary functions of ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution (TFHT). TFHT lauds France’s government for stepping up and doing the right thing, yet another country reinforcing the message that societies must see prostituted people as victims, not as social pariahs.

As hoped, this move motivated Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked, at the urging of MKs Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) and Zehava Galon (Meretz), to call for the formation of a committee to examine the possibility of making the purchase of prostitution a criminal offence. The bill currently under consideration, authored by TFHT Director, Adv. Michal Leibel, is the most comprehensive piece of legislation proposed to date, outlining annual costs for support services, enforcement, and income to be derived from fines from johns.  You can read more HERE about the formation of the committee.

Though there is a still a long way to go, this is good news.

What can you do?

If you are not already a P119 volunteer, sign up HERE today to become an online activist in urging Israel’s Knesset members to support Nordic Model legislation in Israel.

If you are already a Project 119 volunteer, thank you. Please remember to complete your assignment. This is a fast moving campaign requiring we all do our part.

As we ready ourselves for Hag Pesah, let us also pledge to rid society of the plague of prostitution and abuse of those still in bondage


You can read more about the French law HERE and HERE.

HAARETZ – Punish Clients, Not Prostitutes

Haaretz Editorial, Haaertz Newspaper, 11/04/2016

Prostitutes in Tel Aviv.The photograph shows two figures wearing high boots standing on a street, their backs to the camera.

A “major advance” for human rights and women’s rights was how French Prime Minister Manuel Valls described the law passed by his country’s parliament on Wednesday, making it illegal to pay for sex in France. From now on, engaging the service of a prostitute is a criminal offense that carries a fine.The goal of the law is to discourage prostitution by penalizing the clients rather than the prostitutes. Sweden was the first country to adopt this approach, passing a similar law in 1999. Other countries with laws of this kind include Norway, Iceland, Canada and Ireland.
The law that outlaws prostitution and shifts the criminal burden to the customers has drawn international attention, particularly in light of the failure of regulation of the industry in the Netherlands. The trafficking of women has increased, together with organized crime. In Sweden, prostitution has not been eliminated, but studies show that the number of female sex workers in the country fell by two-thirds and the law has stopped women from entering the industry.

Legislation criminalizing the clients represents a revolutionary approach to prostitution. First, it declares that prostitution is a form of violence against women. In addition, there is increasing recognition of the criminal responsibility of the client in contributing to the success of prostitution. He collaborates with the pimps and crime organizations that use his money to grease the wheels of the industry. Customer demand shapes and influences the sex industry and the characteristics of the victims of prostitution, including their young age.
Criminalizing the client changes the entire legal and social approach to the phenomenon; the social and legal disgrace moves from the prostitute to the client, and it is he who is now subject to sanctions, condemnation and public criticism. It stresses the harm done to women who engage in prostitution, to all women, and to society as a whole, and it makes the debate over illusions of “choice” and “consent” superfluous by acknowledging that those caught up in the cycle of prostitution don’t have real choice. The discussion is focused on the damage prostitution causes and how to prevent it.

A bill in the spirit of the Swedish legislation promoted by Meretz party chairwoman Zehava Galon was passed in a preliminary reading in the Knesset in February 2012. Galon and MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) will resubmit it when the Knesset convenes for the summer session, with added provisions for rehabilitating sex workers.

We can only hopes that Israel will demonstrate ethical and social responsibility for human rights and women’s rights and join the global trend of adopting the Swedish model. The time has also come for Israel to clearly declare, like the other states that have adopted this approach — the customer is the criminal.

TFHT and Ofek Nashi

On a daily basis, Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution (TFHT) Director Michal Leibel can be found in the halls of the Knesset and offices of government ministers and Members of Knesset in an effort to secure cross-party support of TFHT authored Nordic Model legislation. Last August, she added one more task to her already busy agenda. For four months Michal made a weekly four-hour round-trip bus ride between Jerusalem and Haifa to facilitate an unusual discussion group in collaboration with Ofek Nashi (Women’s Horizons), a program that provides support and shelter for women who have left, or are in the process of escaping prostitution. An initiative of the Municipality of Haifa and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services, Ofek Nashi seeks to rebuild the lives of women who, as a result of being prostituted, have suffered substance abuse; mental, sexual, and physical violence; and family, health and legal problems. Over the course of one year, participants receive individual counseling, take part in group therapy, undergo job training, and meet women leaders in an effort to prepare themselves for independent life off the streets.

The discussion group formed in August 2015 at the request of Ofek Nashi participants who were curious about the Nordic Model and TFHT’s legal process to protect prostituted people. A core group of five women participated in each session and another five contributed as they were able.

Many of the sessions centered on the challenges and progress in the cause of shifting public opinion about prostitution and the role of the media in such effort. Of particular note was a session with Limor Pinhasov, a representative of Ta Ha’Itonayot (Israel’s “Chamber of Women Journalists”), a collective formed in 2012 to advance the representation and scope of women in the media, perhaps best known for its campaign to tackle sexual discrimination and harassment of women journalists.

Understandably, most survivors of prostitution work hard to protect their privacy and that of their families, rather than revealing their history providing sexual services. Most simply want to disappear into society and leave their past behind. However, among the participants was one exceptionally brave woman, Vika, who was willing to be interviewed and photographed without concealment on a special Channel Two news story. The Hebrew broadcast can be found here. (TFHT is in the process of having English subtitles added.) In addition to appearing within the media, Vika attends discussions about prostitution with the Knesset’s Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality and speaks to groups about her personal experiences and the abusive reality of prostitution.

TFHT hopes to continue facilitating such groups with the goal of empowering survivors of prostitution to help advocate for social legislative change vis-à-vis prostitution. Such involvement carries a potent message to the public and to decision makers. At present, there is no organization of survivors who work openly to change the landscape and reality of prostitution in Israel. SPACE, (Survivors of Prostitution-Abuse Calling for Enlightenment), an international organization was formed in 2012 as a coalition of women survivors of prostitution from France, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Canada, the US and the UK , who chose to forgo their anonymity for the purpose of speaking out against prostitution in the public arena. Its purpose is to give voice to women who have survived the abusive reality of prostitution. We hope Israel may one day soon follow suit.


The Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution (TFHT), an initiative of Israel NGO, ATZUM-Justice Works, aims to eradicate human trafficking across and within Israel’s borders and ensure passage of Nordic Model legislation to criminalize the purchase of sexual services and protect the prostituted person, nearly always a girl or woman coerced into sexual servitude.