Despite the current war on the home front, government officials and representatives of the US Embassy and the US State Department took time out of their busy schedules last week to discuss practical recommendations for how to address sex trafficking and labor trafficking in the country.
Those present at the convention included US Ambassador to Israel Richard Jones, Senior Coordinator for International Programs at the US State Department Dr. Jane Nady Sigmon, Israel's newly-appointed Inter-office liaison on trafficking in persons Rochelle Gershuni, MK Zehava Galon, MK Gideon Sa'ar, head of the Jewish law department at the Justice Ministry Dr. Michael Vigoda and members of several non-government organizations.
Following opening speeches, participants broke into working groups to make recommendations on what the country should be doing in the fields of protection prevention and prosecution.
Among the challenges identified was the lack of accurate cross-border information available to government and NGOs, which has been worsened by the situation in Lebanon and Gaza. The estimates about the scope of the problem vary wildly. In labor trafficking, NGOs estimate that there are more than 15,000 victims in the country, while government officers say there are only isolated incidences. In the area of sex trafficking, NGOs say there are thousands of victims, while the government claims only hundreds.
"The real problem is the lack of intelligence," commented Yedida Wolf, Co-Director of the Task Force on Human Trafficking (TFHT), a project of the non- profit organization ATZUM and law firm Kabir-Nevo-Keidar.
"In order to comprehend the scope of the problem, the government will have to invest resources in gathering intelligence and initiating investigations. Only then can we know what we are dealing with and how best to address it," Wolf said.
She added that some of the suggestions made at the symposium - such as the eventual creation of a national agency to combat trafficking in persons and mandatory restitution payments to victims in the context of criminal proceedings - were very promising for the future.
"It is important to recognize that this problem is not unique to Israel," Wolf continued. "Human trafficking is a scourge in every country in the world. Indeed, in the region, Israel is one of the more progressive actors in combating this phenomenon, but more can and must be done."
In April, Israel was labeled as a top destination country for human trafficking in a UN report and in June, the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report placed Israel in the Tier Two (watch list) category.