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The "World's Oldest Profession" - a Major Update in Israel

Updated: Aug 21, 2020

For a long time prostitution in Israel had an interesting status. It was not illegal to prostitute oneself but one could not prostitute others. This of course makes perfect sense. But what about the clientele? Well as of one week ago, it is now illegal to procure sex services as well (or to be found in a brothel). Of course this is all easier said then done.

Some quick history:

Up until about a decade ago Israel had a porous border along the Sinai border with Egypt (no fence at the time) and realizing that it was difficult to control, was willing to look the other way as to what Bedouin in the Sinai were smuggling in to Israel as long as it wasn't terrorists/weapons/etc. That meant, however, that there was an open route available for smuggling in trafficked women (as well as migrant workers and refugees from Africa). Once the Moslem Brotherhood took over Egypt and opened Egypt's border to Gaza (yes, they share a border as well), people from Gaza - including Hamas operatives - started streaming into the Sinai. [Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Moslem Brotherhood.] This created a major security problem for Israel which it was quick to fix, by building a giant border wall.

Around the same time, the CIA published their watch list of destination countries for human trafficking. Obviously it was a shock for the Israeli government to find that they were on the list. Since then - in addition to the border wall - numerous steps have been taken in order to stop the entrance of trafficked women into Israel including training and protocols for staff at the airports. Due to these various measures, not only has Israel been removed from the watch list but it is noted as one of the top countries in fighting this phenomenon. As such, much of the sex trade in Israel today is local as opposed to foreign.

In 1999, Sweden became the first country to criminalize the purchase of sex - as opposed to the sale of sex - and a number of countries have followed suit to a varying degree of success. This focus on criminalizing the buying as opposed to the selling of sex has now become known worldwide as the Nordic model.

Of course the major issue in an overhaul like this is to make sure that the sex workers - 3/4 of whom in Israel would like to leave the business - have a place to go to - since the clear majority entered the business due to financial hardship. At a time of record unemployment this is easier said than done [though in a time of plague, limiting these encounters is also a priority as there is clearly no social distancing involved].

Another issue is that while this law was approved a year and a half ago, for over a year there was no government in Israel, meaning that it was difficult to set in place the mechanisms for helping the sex workers to transition into a new line of work.

All of that has made the current implementation of this law - which should seem cut and dry - highly controversial.

For more on the debate in Israel check out these articles:

Just to be clear - yes I am a tour guide of Israel - but I am not that kind of tour guide. I use this blog to inform people about everything going on in Israel, and this has been a source of major discussion this past week.

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