By Kayla Zecher, Projects Coordinator for ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking
Addressing social justice issues in Israel is not easy. There is always something “more serious” to deal with. Security usually trumps all. However, something changed with this past summer’s national social justice protests. The topic of conversation shifted. Suddenly, there were serious issues on the table that did not have to do with security or war. There was room to talk about education, child care, and public health. It was finally possible to discuss our goals and aspirations for our society. The seeds planted over the summer bore fruit last week, when Israel moved one step closer to joining the ranks of countries working towards ridding our world of modern day slavery in one of its most globally pervasive forms: sex trafficking and prostitution.
On a global scale, countries are more open to discussing measures to prevent human trafficking. Parts of these efforts involve finding ways to decrease prostitution – a form of violence and degradation against women and children, many of whom have been trafficked. As Israel evolves and grows, and as global attention to this issue intensifies – spurred on by North-South, wide-spread socio-economic disparities, in addition to endemic war and the emerging phenomena of climate change – we are forced to deal with immigration and, therefore, with human trafficking. Today, Israel has a staggering 15,000 women working in the prostitution industry, an estimated 5,000 of whom are minors.
For eight years now, ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking has worked to eradicate modern day slavery. Together with Israeli law office Kabiri-Nevo-Keidar, we aim to engage the public and government agencies to confront and eradicate modern slavery in Israel, and lobby for reform in the areas of prevention, border closure, protection of escaped women, and prosecution of traffickers and pimps.
To this end, we put together the Women-To-Go campaign, a powerful portrayal of prostitution in which women stood in store windows as objects to be purchased; organized CREATE, a conference for religious educators on trafficking and exploitation; and launched Project 119, a volunteer lobbying effort whereby individuals were assigned to members of Knesset to lobby for legislation proposing the criminalization of the purchase of sexual services.
On Sunday, February 12, 2012, the Ministerial Legislation Committee of the Israeli Knesset passed this legislation dealing a blow to the ‘supply chain’ for sexual services in Israel and setting in place a proven deterrent (in countries such as Sweden, Norway, Iceland and most recently France) for human trafficking and prostitution. This decision represents a huge victory for Israel. The Israeli government made a statement that human beings are not for sale in our society, and that trafficking in sexual services is no longer a legitimate enterprise on our streets. Most importantly, women who are in this industry will know that the Israeli government is no longer turning a blind eye to their suffering and has resolved to put an end to this societal malady.