President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni were unanimous in their condemnation of what they termed a new-old form of slavery in a more sophisticated mode. The three were talking on Wednesday at the President’s Residence at the awards ceremony for outstanding individuals in the fight against human trafficking.

Peres who referred to the United Nations declaration of human rights that was adopted in December 1948, which recognizes the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, noted that although Israel was a signatory to the declaration, these values were embodied in Jewish Law at Mount Sinai.

Like all modern states, Israel is totally opposed to any form of human trafficking, said Peres, but acknowledged that are still marginal areas, where this evil phenomenon continues to be perpetrated..

As President of Israel, he said he was proud to be able to present awards for the sixth consecutive year to people who are in the forefront of the battle against human trafficking.

Netanyahu did not go as far back in time as Peres in citing Jewish writings that preceded the UN Declaration, but he did quote Zionist visionary Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who is regarded as the spiritual father of the Revisionist Movement, and who was a keen supporter of civil rights in general and women’s rights in particular. Reading from Jabotinsky’s writings Netanyahu said : “The way one treats a woman distinguishes him between a civilized man and a savage. There is no excuse for permitting the dark forces of a man to humiliate a woman”.

The government and volunteers work together to eliminate slavery and human trafficking as well as trafficking in human organs, said Netanyahu, adding that there is still much to do.

With reference to human rights, Netanyahu said that Israel which endeavors to be a light unto the nations is frequently misrepresented and portrayed as a criminal element.

Livni said that whoever deals in human traffic must be deaf and blind and unable to see the soul of the individual or to hear the plea for help. All they see in another being is a sex object.

A decade ago “to our shame” she said, Israel was on the blacklist for human trafficking of the US State Department Since then, she said, Israel has not only been taken off the blacklist, but has been placed on the list of leading countries that fight human trafficking.

Modern slavery may look modern she said, “but it takes us back to slavery of an earlier era.”

Livni emphasized the importance of respecting, honoring and defending all human beings.

The awards went to former Knesset Member Orit Zuaretz, who served in the 18th Knesset, first as a member of Kadima and then of Hatnua; Menachem Wagschal, a former Director General of the Ministry for Social Affairs, and Yael Goor the director of the Health Ministry’s Levinsky Clinic in Tel Aviv.

Zuaretz was born in the USSR and came to Israel when she was still a child. She served in the IDF Inteligence Corps, speaks English, Arabic, Russian, and Hebrew, and while an MK was a member of numerous civil rights lobbies and chaired the Knesset subcommittee on trafficking in women. She made a point of meeting victims and listening to their stories and introduced legislation against prostitution. A 14 year old girl does not choose prostitution as a profession, she said at the time.

Wagschal was the representative of the Ministry for Social Affairs at interministerial and other meetings on human trafficking and helped prostitutes and other victims to get out of the cycle of slavery. He helped to establish the Maagan shelter for women and the Atlas shelter for men and worked diligently to assist anyone who was housed in the shelters to rehabilitate their lives to find their places in the mainstream work force.

The walk-in Levinsky Clinic which Goor heads deals with people with sexually transmitted diseases and is staffed by doctors, nurses and community workers who operate in a non-judgmental environment. The clinic also maintains a mobile unit which cruises around Tel Aviv looking for prostitutes, homeless people and others who need help. Goor herself has a strong connection with street people including youth at risk, homeless and prostitutes.

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