Olmert pledges to prioritize battle against white slavery

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised on Wednesday to place the battle against trafficking in women at the top of the agenda of societal priorities if he is elected prime minister on March 28. "That acting prime minister Ehud Olmert, probably one of the busiest people in Israel today, took time out of his schedule to sign this petition shows how important it is to put an end to the trading of women," Roni Aloni Sadovnik, spokeswoman for the Task Force on Human Trafficking (TFHT), a project of the non-profit organization Atzum, said following the signing. "We hope this will also send a message to the leaders of the police, the army and the legal system to put more emphasis on this problem." Olmert's signature on the convention joins that of Labor Party leader Amir Peretz and Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, the other two candidates running for prime minister. "Now, whoever is in power, we will hopefully be able to put an end to this ugly situation," added Aloni Sadovnik. "The battle against human trafficking is, and always has been, a matter of priorities. Until this point, this issue has not received adequate attention or resources because government leaders simply didn't view it as a priority. If the future prime minister actually dedicates resources to this problem, if he follows through on his undertakings in this convention, Israel could become a world leader in this battle," commented Yedida Wolfe, director of advocacy for the task force. The convention was commissioned by more than 15 organizations, including the Hotline for Migrant Workers, Association for the Civil Rights in Israel, Amnesty International, and the Israel Women's Network, involved in the struggle against human trafficking. Between 3,000 and 5,000 women have been smuggled into Israel in the past four years to work as prostitutes, according to a report released in 2005 by the Knesset Sub-Committee on Trafficking in Women. According to the report, the women, who are mostly from the former Soviet Union, are sold at public auctions for as much as $10,000 and forced to work up to 18 hours a day. On average the women receive only three percent of the money they earn from prostitution and many are raped and beaten. Most of the women are smuggled into Israel over the Egyptian border. TFHT began its campaign to lobby policymakers in Israel in January 2005. Since then it has sent out hundreds of letters to members of the Knesset, educating them about trafficking and demanding important policy changes. Atzum founder Rabbi Levi Lauer will speak on the subject later this month at a special symposium in English called Human Trafficking, Slavery in Our Midst. The symposium is sponsored by the Jerusalem Leadership Institute and will take place at the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies Thursday, March 30.