Measures taken by Israel to reduce human trafficking have not resulted in significant progress, despite some improvement, according to a new study by the Hotline for Migrant Workers.
In the report, entitled Deported and Dispossessed: Human Trafficking and the State of Israel, researchers reported that "despite the progress that has been made in regard to trafficking in women for prostitution, it [Israel] has failed to take any action to uproot human trafficking for other purposes, and failed to reach an adequate level of enforcement, prevention and protection of victims."
While the study credited Israel with taking some steps forward, including fines and seizure of funds and property of those engaged in trafficking, it also said the state profited both from human trafficking itself and from the fight against it.
The funds generated by trafficking wind up - directly or indirectly - in the pockets of the traffickers or in the state's coffers, the researchers said.
"Indirect" profits from trafficking are made, for example, by taxi drivers, brothel landlords, lawyers, newspapers that publish sex advertisements, and women's clothing manufacturers and retailers, according to the report.
Some of the trafficking revenue reaches owners of legitimate businesses, and from there makes its way to the Treasury as income tax. According to the report, the Income Tax Ordinance "allows for imposition of taxes on illegal activities, including human trafficking."
The tax authorities say they do not get revenue from women forced to work as prostitutes, or at least are trying not to do so. In 2005, Israel Tax Authority official Zohar Yom Tov testified that "the women's money and the brothel owner's money... are hard to keep separate."
Economic considerations carried some weight in Israel's decision to improve enforcement against the trafficking, the report said. After the United States warned that it would impose economic sanctions against any country that did not comply with minimal criteria for combating human trafficking, the Knesset "hastily enacted a law banning trafficking," it continued.
Anti-trafficking activity began in 2001, after the US State Department issued its first report listing Israel as one of the nations failing to meet those minimal criteria. For six years, the government's anti-trafficking campaign focused mainly on combating the exploitation of women for prostitution, while almost completely ignoring human trafficking for other purposes.
The report blamed Israel's slow progress on the issue on what it calls state-created conditions "conducive to human trafficking by... displaying apathy and turning a blind eye."
"Even though the penal law includes articles that make it possible to deal with the different crimes that constitute human trafficking - extortion, violation of a ban on seizing another person's passport, coerced incarceration... and slavery - very little was done to enforce these laws," the report concluded.
Meanwhile, the state implemented the "Corporations Arrangement," the main thrust of which requires migrant workers to be employed through manpower corporations, which are required to pay high license fees for every worker.
The main beneficiary from the Corporations Arrangement appears to be the State of Israel, the study reported, saying that in 2005-2006, the Treasury raised more than NIS 190 million from the practice.
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