Prostituting Israel's dignity

Will the government commit to cleaning up Israel's streets with the prostitution bill?

orit zuaretz 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
orit zuaretz 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Prostitution is one of the only areas which comes to mind in which law-abiding Israeli citizens happily pay into the coffers of organized crime. For this reason, the Minister's Legislative Committee made an important and courageous decision on Sunday to approve the legislative initiative to outlaw prostitution in Israel by criminalizing the client.
The bill, which was submitted to the Committee by MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima), is based on the Swedish regulatory model that has been adopted more recently by France and other Western nations. Apparently, the societal stigma created in these countries by making it a criminal offense to purchase sex services has gone far to curb the phenomenon and clean up the streets from all sorts of other ancillary crimes.
The sex services industry in Israel is estimated to turn over NIS 2.3 billion per year, an important source of income for crime families that engage in other businesses such as illegal gambling and drug trafficking. If, theoretically, their prostitution business will be hurt by this new legislation, hopes are that they will find a home for their enterprises elsewhere in the world, in more accommodating jurisdictions.
Beyond the economic realities of the industry, prostitution is a source of innumerable acts of violence, assault and rape against women. For the half-hour after a man pays a prostitute, she becomes his exclusive object of pleasure, his rental property, and who can prevent him from forcing her to carry out any perverted act that may be materialize in his imagination? Statistically, nearly all of the women who are willing to endure such disgrace in consideration for money have reached this place of complete lack of dignity or self-respect as a result of sexual abuse as young girls.
In light of the above, why do so many normative, upstanding, otherwise moral citizens frown at the latest initiative to outlaw prostitution in Israel? Indeed, there are those who call for government oversight and regulation of the industry, along the lines of the Dutch model, rather than illegalization. Some of my religious friends have explained to me that from a rabbinic standpoint it is perfectly fine to pay for intercourse with a prostitute as long as she is not Jewish. Although this is undoubtedly not the only opinion prevalent in the observant community, it is nonetheless interesting.
Should the State of Israel choose to regulate prostitution, would these same voices advocate for registering the religious affiliation of each prostitute? Maybe even kashrut licenses could be granted to brothels to prove that all of their ladies are in fact non-Jews? The question is how would we be able to accommodate the vast amounts of tourists that come to our shores to enjoy Tel-Aviv night-life. How would we feel if a non-Jewish tourist entered into a brothel and said, "I'll take a Jewish girl please; they're my favorite?" Treating any woman in this manner should trouble our collective memories; it should awaken déjà vu of the objectification of Jewish women by Nazi soldiers.
In Germany, by the way, where prostitution is also legalized and regulated, prostitution is sometimes recommended by the State Unemployment Officers to attractive women as a reasonable occupation that they should seriously consider. I do not know too many men who would feel comfortable with their mother, sister or daughter receiving such a recommendation from the government.
Then of course, we have those who argue that if men who cannot otherwise fulfill their sexual desires are not able to do so by purchasing satisfaction from prostitutes, they will turn to illegitimate behavior such as rape, sexual assault and other such heinous crimes. This argument does not degrade women. It degrades men. Has our civilization really advanced so far beyond the age of enlightenment that we have somehow made it back to the Neanderthal age? Hopefully, most of the men in Israeli society don't grunt their way through life merely hunting the next prey to satisfy their instinctual cravings.
Indeed, on Wednesday, when this new piece of legislation is presented for its preliminary vote in the Knesset, our political leaders will have to make an important decision. Will the government of Israel take a step towards cleaning our streets, breaking this business of the underworld, and restoring dignity to women in our country, or will we continue with the same sad state of affairs?
The writer is a partner at Yehuda Raveh & Co. Law Offices and the Founder and Chief Counsel of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice.