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(photo credit: Channel 10)
A US government report lumping Israel together with states like Afghanistan, Jordan and Botswana in its success in combating human trafficking has troubling political implications for Israel, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Wednesday.
Avalon addressed a Knesset subcommittee analyzing the report, released by the US State Department in June, which says Israel is making "significant efforts" but is failing to comply with US standards for preventing human trafficking.
This year's annual "Trafficking in Persons Report" states that Israel is particularly lacking in its prosecution and conviction of recruiters and employers of slave labor, a problem which contributed to Israel's distinction as a "Tier 2" country, behind most Westernized, "Tier 1" countries.
"It has far-reaching political implications," Avalon told The Jerusalem Post following the meeting of the Knesset's Committee on the Status of Women's Subcommittee on the Trafficking in Women. "It has a direct impact on Israel's standing in the international community."
Avalon said significant problems with human trafficking for slavery and forced prostitution hamper's Israel's ability to join the United Nation's Western European and Others Group (WEOG) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
He also said the Foreign Ministry is bolstering its efforts to prevent countries - the US report specifically mentions China, Romania, Turkey and Thailand, Russia and other former Soviet bloc countries - from exporting slave labor to Israel. Israeli consular officials abroad have also received training on how to identify potential perpetrators during visa interviews.
"The goal is to eliminate this scourge once and for all," Avalon said.
Rachel Gershuni, a Justice Ministry official who handles inter-agency coordination to fight trafficking, said the issue requires far-reaching communication between ministries including the Foreign, Interior, Industry and Trade, Labor and Social Affairs.
"This is something we need to work on," said Gershuni, who also attended the subcommittee hearing.
Gershuni pointed to the success of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in fighting human trafficking, a problem which she said runs counter to Israeli principles safeguarding human rights.
"We're not being compared with our countries, we're being compared with our potential," said Gershuni, who noted that the "Tier 1" category of countries included countries such as Germany and Holland, which have legalized prostitution.
Lynn Casssel, acting deputy political counselor at the US embassy, attended the hearing as well as a number of Israeli NGOs.
When asked why the United States chose to issue an annual report that does not include an analysis of its own actions, a US embassy spokesman in Tel Aviv said the report was not meant to be a "blame game."
"This isn't a political statement, it's trying to bring to light the situation that's on the ground," said Ruben Harutunian, deputy spokesman for the US embassy. "You can look at the same facts as blaming Israel, but you can also look at is as an acknowledgement of the significant steps that Israel is taking."
MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima), who chairs the Knesset subcommittee, said she hoped the Knesset would issue its own report on human trafficking in Israel soon.
"For me, I refer to the report as a reflection from the outside. We can't avoid that," Zuaretz said. "We have to reflect on it ourselves â€¦ We have very good laws against trafficking, but we have to implement those laws."
Zuaretz said she was working to gather support for legislation introduced in the previous Knesset session that would heavily prosecute those who patronize prostitution and forced labor services.