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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Public Security Ministry and the Anti-Drug Authority on Tuesday announced the start of a major campaign to crack down on teenage binge drinking, which will involve new legislation and efforts to raise awareness of the dangers of alcohol abuse.
Alcohol-fueled youth violence is on the rise, and according to a poll conducted this year by the Anti-Drug Authority, Israel is ranked second in Europe for alcohol abuse by 11-year-olds.
Some 19 percent of boys and 8% of girls aged 11 said they drank alcohol at least once a week, according to the poll. Only Ukraine had higher levels of drinking among that age group.
"Alcohol has turned into a national plague, and is contributing to crime," Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said last Sunday. "It's like a weapon, and it can even lead to murder."
This Sunday, Aharonovitch will introduce a number of bills and proposed amendments that would see alcohol sales outlawed in kiosks and supermarkets between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Pubs, clubs and restaurants would be allowed to continue night-time sales, since they serve alcoholic beverages that are consumed on the spot, said Yoel Hadar, legal adviser at the Ministry.
Under the new proposals, police would be given authority to close for 30 days establishments that violate the new laws.
Additionally, young people will have to display an ID before buying alcohol.
The current law prohibiting the sale of alcohol to minors would be expanded to outlaw "the provision" of alcohol to minors, in a bid to tackle the practice of minors asking adults to buy intoxicating drinks on their behalf.
All members of the public, regardless of their age, would be prohibited from drinking in public between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. Police would have the power to seize alcohol being consumed in public and pour out the contents of bottles.
Officials said the wholesale banning of underage drinking in Israel was impractical due the major role played by wine in Judaism.
"We have no intention of banning alcohol, but we can't ignore the influence of alcohol on crime," said Cmdr. Yoav Saglovitch, head of the Israel Police's Investigations Branch. "Effective enforcement must come with the right public atmosphere."
Dr. Yair Geller, chairman of the Anti-Drug Authority, said his organization would launch two campaigns to highlight the dangers of binge drinking.
The first campaign, aimed at under-18s, "will send a very clear message that alcohol is very damaging to health," he said.
The second initiative, aimed at adults, will carry the message that "even if you decide to drink, do so in moderation," Geller said.
"In this way, we hope to lower drinking levels among youths by 30 to 40% within the next five years," he said. "Parents and volunteers will patrol bar and club districts to transmit a warning on the pitfalls of binge drinking. Leaflets and posters will be distributed."
According to the Anti-Drug Authority's figures, 32.6% of 12-to-18-year-olds have gotten drunk at least once in the past year - a rise of 7.6% from three years ago.
Twenty-six percent of respondents in the same age group said they were intoxicated at least once in the last month, and had consumed at least five units of alcohol within a few hours, representing a 7.3% rise from three years ago.
Among 18-to-21-year-olds, 63.8% said they were drunk at least once this year, and 61.3% said they consumed at least five units of alcohol over the past month.
Of the 40 countries in Europe (and Israel) that took part in the poll, Israelis aged 13 came in 15th place for alcohol abuse, while the nation's 15-year-olds came in 32nd place.