US State Department faults Interior Ministry’s Oz unit

Annual report says Israeli immigration authority "lacks awareness of trafficking and the will to combat it."

oz unit inspector 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
oz unit inspector 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
While Israel has made significant progress in its battle to combat human trafficking, the formation of the Interior Ministry’s immigration and border control authority, the Oz unit, has brought about a decline in anti-trafficking efforts over the past year, according to the US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report released Monday.
Considered the most comprehensive worldwide study on efforts by governments to combat severe forms of human trafficking, the report highlighted information supplied by local NGOs, which accused the Oz unit inaugurated last July of “lacking awareness of trafficking and the will to combat it.”
“While Oz inspectors were meant to convey information to the police if they encountered suspected crimes against migrant workers, NGOs asserted that this did not happen, and a report by the Knesset’s Research and Information Center confirmed shortcomings in the operations of Oz inspectors,” states the report in its analysis of each country.
Despite the criticisms, Israel retained its place as a Tier 2 level country, which means that while “the Government of Israel does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, it is making significant efforts to do so.”
Over the past year, notes the report, Israel continued its law enforcement actions against human trafficking, established a shelter for labor trafficking victims and continued to develop services for women brought here for the sex trade.
However, the report also found that over the past year the government did not adequately identify labor trafficking victims and some law enforcement and protection efforts diminished since the transfer of anti-trafficking duties from the Immigration Police to the Ministry of the Interior. The Interior Ministry did not answer requests by The Jerusalem Post to comment on the report.
Israel did receive accolades, however, for holding its first and second annual ceremonies to present awards to individuals or organizations that made a significant contribution toward combating human trafficking, and the country’s national coordinator for human trafficking, lawyer Rachel Gershoni, posted an annual summary of the Israeli government’s anti-trafficking efforts on the Web, and disseminated information on trafficking via a weekly digest sent to governmental and nongovernmental stakeholders.
In addition, Israel’s parliament held a meeting to discuss the implications of last year’s TIP report and last December the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women broadcast on local television several reports on the issue of sex trafficking.
Regarding labor trafficking, the report commended Israel fordistributing trafficking prevention brochures in different languagesfor use by the Israeli consuls in selected countries and for foreignworkers arriving here.
Over the past year, the Israeli authorities revoked the recruitmentlicenses and special permits to recruit foreign workers of 18 personnelagencies and in January Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu approved aplan to increase penalties against agencies that charge exorbitantrecruitment fees.
The report recommends that Israel “significantly increase prosecutions,convictions and punishment of forced labor offenses; ensure identifiedtrafficking victims are not penalized for unlawful acts committed as adirect result of being trafficked, such as immigration violations; andfully investigate the incidence of Israeli nationals traffickedinternally for commercial sexual exploitation.”
Israel is considered a destination country, with men and womentrafficked here from the Far East and Eastern Europe, mainly for forcedlabor and prostitution.