How a courageous woman journalist exposed the duplicitous acts of a human trafficker/pimp and how you can help!

Notorious Israeli human trafficker and pimp turned real estate mogul has been identified, again. Help the woman who was brave enough to speak his name a second time.



No one forced him to do it.

David (Dudu) Digmi, described by Tel-Aviv District Court Judge Chaled Kabub three years ago as “… the central figure in the largest network in Israel trafficking in women, with operations and connections overseas” got himself in legal hot water all on his own. As reported by “Haaretz”, “The network [uncovered in 2009] smuggled hundreds of young women from small villages and towns in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldavia and Uzbekistan after convincing them to come to Israel.” These unsuspecting women were lured by the promise of work in legitimate industries, many trafficked against their will. “In some of the cases the traffickers, including Digmi, used severe violence against the women,” as they were shepherded surreptitiously from country to country until arriving in Israel.

After his actions came to light and the case uncovering the network’s activities went to court in 2013, Digmi was neither jailed nor fined as his underlings were; instead he managed to slither away, becoming a state’s witness and police informant. Ironically, Digmi thrived as he made swift use of the spoils accumulated from his international trafficking and pimping, reinventing himself under another name, as a partner of a purportedly legitimate business — Urban Real Estate (URE).


No one forced her to do it.

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Sharon Shpurer, former Haaretz journalist

Digmi continued to operate in this fashion, hiding in plain sight, until a courageous journalist, Sharon Shpurer, who had written a series of investigative reports for “Haaretz” and “TheMarker” relating to Digmi and his partners, exposed him on her Facebook page, calling URE “dubious” and urging the public not patronize the company due to its owner’s former crimes. Sharon was immediately hit with a NIS 1.68 million ($440,000) SLAPP suit filed by URE.  Though such lawsuits – intended to censor, silence, intimidate and bully critics by burdening them with crippling legal action – are prohibited in some countries on the grounds that they impede freedom of speech, in Israel they are allowed.  

While Digmi’s new name was subsequently released by Rotter, an online news forum, despite the continuing gag order forbidding its publication, Sharon and Sharon alone remains the target of a vicious libel lawsuit. Her courage and unwillingness to silently allow this man to accumulate additional wealth using ill-gotten gains derived from prostituting girls and women have placed Sharon in legal and physical peril. Her struggle is our struggle — the struggle for freedom of speech, and the struggle to protect victims of trafficking and prostitution.


What is TFHT doing?

Established in 2003, the Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution (TFHT), a joint initiative of Israel NGO ATZUM-Justice Works and the law firm Kabiri-Nevo-Keidar, aims to eradicate human trafficking across and within Israel’s borders and ensure passage of Nordic Model legislation, the international standard designed to criminalize the purchase of sexual services and protect the prostituted person.  Our devoted professionals and volunteers have worked relentlessly with the last four governments in pursuit of legislative change toward the eradication of prostitution and human trafficking and legal enforcement of laws already on the books.

TFHT’s recent and continuing efforts to legally shut down a Tel-Aviv strip club, a front for a brothel prostituting trafficked girls and women, have led to recent threats of violence directed anonymously against the Task Force. This pressure notwithstanding, KNK, as TFHT’s partner, is providing Sharon with pro bono legal representation. (Haaretz is unwilling to do so.) The latest court decision determining that URE’s name can be connected to Digmi is a huge legal win made by TFHT/KNK and a significant step in helping Sharon’s case. 


What can you do?

  1. Sign the Hebrew petition, created by Israel’s Journalist Association, to help fund Sharon’s possible payout if she loses her libel suit. To date, 4,414 journalists, public figures, Members of Knesset, celebrities, and the general public have signed on to potentially pay a portion of her fine in the event that Sharon is financially penalized.
  1. Join TFHT’s Project 119 to help pass progressive legislation to criminalize the act of purchasing sexual services in Israel. Project 119 is an email campaign that matches individual MKs and Government Ministers with Israeli and Diaspora online activists. If you have five free minutes a week and want to help, Project 119 is for you!
  1. Advance TFHT’s work through your financial support. Funds are needed both in 2016 and in the coming year to help fund our legal, legislative, advocacy and educational efforts.


Thank you for acting today!

The Task Force on Trafficking and Prostitution
A project of ATZUM – Justice Works and Kabiri-Nevo-Keidar
development.atzum@gmail.com


PS:  Look for news of TFHT’s upcoming event when we award Sharon Shpurer ATZUM’s Ot HaDror Award recognizing public opinion makers and leaders who strive to abolish modern-day slavery. Past recipients include Dalia Dorner, former Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel; Zahava Gal-On, Knesset Member (Meretz); Adv. Rachel Gershuni, Israel’s National Anti-Human Trafficking Coordinator; Orli Vilnai, Israeli journalist and Channel 10 anchor; and Orit Zuaretz, former Knesset Member.


Remembering G and reflecting on the year following her August, 2015 suicide

On August 13, 2015, G, also known as Jessica, a 36-year-old immigrant from the FSU, prostituted for 15 years at Tel-Aviv’s infamous 98 Ha’Yarkon Street brothel, committed suicide rather than endure one more night’s repeated rapes. Her death and the events it triggered continue to impact Israel society.

ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution (TFHT) immediately posted a death notice, common practice upon losing a loved one, and also organized a 900-person commemoration march lamenting her tragic death and protesting the so-called “profession” that was its cause. TFHT was also a critical player in the swift issuance of an urgent petition to the Tel-Aviv Magistrate’s Court requesting closure of the brothel. Member organizations of the THFT facilitated Coalition for the Fight against Prostitution, as well as thirteen MKs, joined the petition.  As result, the brothel was closed for the maximum period permissible by law. The police and the courts were waking up to the problem as some months later, another brothel well-known to law enforcement, located at 36 Yitzhak Sadeh Street, too was shut down.

Nine months following G’s suicide, the first National Survey on Prostitution in Israel, commissioned by the Ministries of Social Affairs and Public Security, was published. Referencing data collected as of 2014, the survey revealed there are approximately 11,600 prostituted persons in Israel. An estimated 95 percent are female; most are Jewish, Israeli mothers over 30 who entered prostitution for financial reasons. On average they see six clients daily. While some members of the public would opt to regulate prostitution as a legitimate industry, the survey revealed 76 percent of its victims seek escape, making a clear case that protective and rehabilitative legislation be adopted and the criminal industries that permit human beings to be trafficked into a life of sexual slavery dismantled.

In the year since G’s suicide, TFHT has authored the most comprehensive piece of legislation proposed to date, outlining annual costs for support services, enforcement, and income sources. Based on Nordic Model law, the international standard designed to criminalize pimps and johns and protect the prostituted person, THTT’s proposed bill has garnered broad cross-party support so necessary to legislative change.

A year has passed – from a “wake-up call” to a true “call to action”

On August 25, 2016, TFHT organized a memorial event around the anniversary of G’s death to remember her and the nearly 12,000 others who remain trapped and demoralized by prostitution. Approximately 300 people participated and considerable press coverage tracked our activities. Significantly, on the eve the gathering, Israel’s Minister of Welfare and Social Services, Haim Katz, went on record to support legislation to criminalize johns, except in cases where the perpetrator is a minor. Though this falls short of a full endorsement of TFHT’s bill, it is a considerable step in support of TFHT’s lobbying efforts which will coincide with the start of the Knesset winter session in late October.

G’s tragic end lifted the veil cloaking public misconception that women choose prostitution, a falsehood perpetrated, in part, because pimps pay and threaten prostituted women to lie on record to convince themselves and others that prostitution is a choice.  While we will report on the event and its implications in greater depth in the coming weeks, we want to share with you some recent news commentary in response to our efforts:

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Photo credit: Oren Ziv, Activestills

What have we learned and how can you help?

What have we learned? In the past twelve months, public awareness of the evils of trafficking and the abuses of prostitution has grown exponentially; high-profile instances of the suffering of prostituted women have attracted much media coverage, as have the instances of the sexual abuse of women by public figures; and the culture of business-as-usual buying people for sex is slowly beginning to be seen as unacceptable.  If you are not already part of TFHT’s Project 119 online campaign to help pass progressive legislation to criminalize the act of purchasing sexual services in Israel please do so today! For information on how to sign-up, click here!

Reaching Across an Ocean to Help Survivors of Terror

In our Care: The recent increase in terror on Israel’s streets brings a return of familiar fear and dread, triggering a collective trauma experienced with particular force by those whose lives were previously upended in its wake. Here is the story of the B family, in our care for many years, and the outreach provided by project coordinator, social worker, Tamar Hatzir.  

In 2008, a katyusha rocket landed in front of then 8-year-old Koby directly outside his family’s modest home in the south of Israel. Koby has an older sister, Orit (today, 19) and a younger brother, Gabrielle (today, 13).  Following the attack, Koby changed from a friendly child with a sense of humor to a socially introverted, overweight teen. He is considerably dependent on his mother, during the day, and on his father, with whom he sleeps. Koby suffers from nightmares, nighttime incontinence, and debilitating anxiety, common complications for those diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Koby is afraid to walk alone or travel by public transportation; his mother must either drive or escort him by taxi to school. Last year, after a long struggle with the educational authorities, his mother was able to arrange for Koby to go to a new school better able to serve his special needs. The family is still fragile and needs the help provided by Tamar, who notes:

“The Roberta Project helps the family on a number of fronts: first, I am assisting Koby’s parents to better respond to his PTSD while remaining available to deal with the needs of his siblings, and to maintain their own marital relationship which had deteriorated considerably over the years. Second, I am working one-on-one to help empower his mother to take better care of her health problems and return to the work force. Also, after working with him for two years, I am pleased Koby’s situation is improving, as he is now willing to play in the street with other children. Third, we have provided the family with food vouchers during the holidays to make life a bit easier.”

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Emma Fishbein

Thanks to Emma – From “Dawn to Healing”:  Meet Emma Fishbein, the Chicago teen who recently became a Bat Mitzvah. To mark the occasion, she asked her friends and family not for presents, but to help her raise money for ATZUM’s Roberta Project by sponsoring her in an 18-mile swim.  Emma set as her target $2,500 and has to date raised over $4,000! The funds will help people like Efrat (“To be Healed” in Hebrew), a girl who grew up with the name Shachar (“Dawn” in Hebrew) who was injured in a terror attack a decade ago. Read about Emma’s successful campaign sponsored by Root Funding  and Efrat’s story of how and why she changed her name and the healing that is still ongoing. Emma’s generosity is not surprising; she comes from a caring and munificent family that has helped raise funds in support of the Roberta Project for the last several years.  To Emma and her family – Kol Hakavod, (“All of the respect!”). May you be an example for others.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.