Ministerial Committee Voted Yes to Human Trafficking Bill

Activism can make a difference.

On Sunday, February 12, the Israeli cabinet agreed to bring the human trafficking bill to a full Kneset vote. The full Knesset will vote on a first reading on Wednesday.

This bill, with a proven track record in Norway, takes a non-traditional approach to ending human trafficking. The new bill takes a market approach and punishes the consumers, thus making sex trafficking a less lucrative business for would-be brothel owners and human traffickers. Buyers of sexual services face a forced educational program for a first offense and jail time for a second. Their names will also be published to the media.

The new law also contains provisions for a charge of slavery with a possible penalty of 16 years imprisonment. Slavery includes a financial transaction for the purposes of removing an organ from a person’s body, giving birth to a child and then taking the child away, forced labor, and pushing a person into prostitution or any obscene display of the body whether in print or person.

This has been a long battle. A version of the bill was draft in 2008 but could not get Knesset approval.

MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima) attributes the success to the many ministers who supported the legislation, to lawyer Rachel Gershuni, , the country’s national coordinator for human trafficking, and to the many activists who helped raise awareness and lobby MKs and ministers on the need for the bill.

Much of the grass roots effort was organized by the Task Force on Human Trafficking (TFHT), a joint project of ATZUM, and law firm Kabri-Nevo-Kaidar . TFHT has been especially active in organizing grass roots support for the bill, including a demonstration last week that spanned four cities (Jerusalem, Washington DC, New York City, and London). It also trained a small army of volunteers to be experts on human trafficking. Each volunteer was assigned one or more Knesset members and used their expertise to lobby the MK for the bill. Levi Lauer told the Jerusalem Post that this may be the first time such a lobbying approach has been used in Israel. It is based on AIPAC’s model for lobbying the US Congress.

Many challenges remain.  Although the  bill is expected to pass the full Knesset vote without difficulty, this is only the first of many steps before the bill becomes law.  According to Rachel Singerman Gur, Legislative Adviser to the Coalition Chairman, “The committee of ministers decided to support the bill in the preliminary reading in the Knesset Plenum on condition that it would be coordinated with the relevant government ministries and would return to council of ministers for reevaluation before the first reading in the Knesset plenum.This is very tepid approval and forcing the bill to return to the council for re- approval may reduce it’s changes of passing dramatically.”

Even if the bill does pass, Levi Lauer of the Task Force on Human Trafficking (TFHT) observed that this is only the first stage of a long process. Once the bill has passed, the battle will shift to enforcement. Advocates will need to make sure that the funds and government will is beind aggressively arresting and prosecuting the clients of sexual services. Existing laws for punishing brothel owners and pimps also need to be enforced to the fullest.

Rachel Gershuni, , who researched the issue on behalf of the Justice Ministry and is now responsible for enforcing it says that courts will have to learn how to apply the law. The first cases must be egregious so that they lead to conviction. One challenge for the courts will be distinguishing between slavery indictments which carry a 16 year imprisonment and the lesser charge of work exploitation.


Note: article was updated 2012-02-13 at 7:30pm IST

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