Israel's human-trafficking record little improved - US

Israel has failed to adequately punish the perpetrators of international human trafficking and must significantly increase its law enforcement and victim protection services if it is to improve its status in the US State Department's annual Trafficking in Person's Report, according to the document's 2008 version, which was released on Wednesday. "Israel does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking," the report reads, and subsequently has remained in the second level, or Tier 2, along with 69 other countries - including Lebanon, Yemen, Ethiopia and Thailand. However, while Israel failed to reach the desired Tier 1, the report does say that the government is making significant efforts against trafficking - such as increased convictions for sex trafficking offenses and a campaign to prevent incidences of slavery. The Trafficking in Person's Report is the most comprehensive worldwide study on the efforts of governments to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons and its assessments are based on material collected from local government and nongovernment organizations. When it was first compiled in 2000, Israel was placed in the lowest category. Since then Israel's status has improved due to new legislation and the willingness of the authorities to recognize the problem. "Though the [Israeli] government prepared some indictments for forced labor, it did not criminally prosecute or convict any employer or recruitment agent for labor trafficking," the 2008 report reads. "In addition, the government still does not provide forced labor victims with adequate protection services, such as appropriate shelter, or medical and psychological assistance." The State Department recommends that Israel "significantly increases its efforts against forced labor, including prosecutions, convictions and sentences for practices such as unlawful withholding of passports and charging fraudulent recruitment fees; significantly increase prosecutions and punishments of internal trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation; and extend comprehensive protection services to victims of forced labor." "The report clearly shows Israel's central problem in its approach to combating trafficking," said Romm Lewkowicz, spokesman of the Hotline for Migrant Workers, a grass-roots organization that provides assistance to thousands of foreign workers living in Israel. "While legislation is clearly progressing there is still little awareness and prevention." He also highlighted the fairly new phenomenon of Israeli women being trafficked abroad for commercial sexual exploitation, which is referred to in the State Department report. According to the report, there have been cases of Israeli women being taken to Canada, Ireland and England. "One of the main problems is that the authorities are busy chasing the classic trafficking cases," Lewkowicz said, "when in fact the new and more common form of trafficking involves forced labor, the trafficking of Chinese women for prostitution and forcing Israeli women to go abroad." The Isha L'Isha-Haifa Feminist Center, which is extremely active in combating human trafficking and contributed to the 2008 Trafficking in Person's Report, believes that another barrier to Israel reaching Tier 1 status is the "inactivity of the Interior Ministry." The NGO's anti-trafficking project coordinator, Rita Chaikin, said Wednesday that the ministry refused to provide adequate assistance to female victims of trafficking, such as visas to stay here for rehabilitation services and, in some more extreme cases, citizenship.