A new law criminalizing payment for sexual services took effect in Israel last week. A new survey by Tel Aviv University found that nearly one in every three Israeli men say they have paid for sex at least one time in their lives, and one in six say that
they have paid on multiple occasions.
Sex work has long been legalized in Israel 204 but most of the activities that make professional sex work possible are not. Operating a brothel and pimping are outlawed in the country of about 8.8 million, and in
January of last year, Israel's Knesset, or parliament, passed a new law making the payment of money for sexual services a crime.
That law finally took effect on July 10 of this year. Not only is paying for sex illegal under the new law, but even
seeking the services of a sex worker can now be punished by a fine ranging from the equivalent of $530 for a first offense, to a maximum of $20,400 for repeat offenses, according to a report by The Times of Israel .
In fact, the law now makes it
illegal even to be caught in a place where sexual services are offered, such as a brothel.
Israeli authorities issued administrative orders shutting down three strip clubs in Tel Aviv, following State Prosecution guidelines under which lap dancing is claimed to be prostitution and buying it is a criminal offence.
Closure orders were issued
to the Baby Dolls, Shendu and GoGo clubs. The administrative order allows for the immediate closure of the clubs for 30 days, as police investigate their activities. When the order expires, in accordance with the findings of the investigation, the police
and prosecution can decide whether to ask the court to extend it. There is now only one other strip club openly operating in Israel.
According to a law enforcement source, after the guidelines were issued by former State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan,
the club owners were warned about the need to revamp their operations before being shut down. Prosecutors said in a statement:
The action was carried out in accordance with the state prosecutor's instruction regarding
enforcement policy against violations that are affiliated with prostitution, including the act known as 'lap dance,' about which it was determined that under certain circumstances it is a forbidden act.
The Israeli Prostitution Task Force Committee's promise to carry out 'a large-scale offensive to root out lap dances from
strip clubs' is just one several concurrent attacks on sex workers' rights currently being launched by the Israeli Knesset (Parliament). Ministers are
sponsoring amendments to the law in order to criminalise 'striptease' under prostitution law, stating that both stripping and other sex
work "perpetuate harmful and humiliating attitudes towards women and their bodies".
Israeli law conflates those suspected of being trafficking victims and migrant sex workers, usually resulting in people being deported or refused entry at the border. The number of deportations from Israel had subsided in recent years, but 2018 has seen an increase again -- in the first 8 months of this year, 288 people were turned away at the border
"on suspicion they planned to work in prostitution " (an 87% increase compared to last year).
In October, after parliamentary recess, the Knesset will consider a Bill proposing criminalisation of the purchase of
sex, which was approved to be taken forward in August . This is the 8th year that Israel's Knesset has
considered a proposal for sex work law reform resembling the ' Nordic Model ', which criminalises the purchase of sex. So far no version of the Bill has
progressed beyond the first reading (in Israel a bill needs to pass through three readings before coming law).
The most recent proposed legislation proposes civil penalties, instead of criminal charges, for those who attempt to
purchase sexual services; the Bill proposes a fines system, with first time 'offenders' facing a fine of NIS 1,500 ($405). The penalty can increase to NIS 3,000 ($810) for those who repeat the offense within three years, and courts would be empowered to
raise the fines to a maximum of NIS 75,300 ($20,400.) Fines would be applicable to those who pay someone for their labour when it includes the provision of sexual services. As in many countries who have the Nordic Model, Israel also plans to make it an
offense to attempt to pay for sexual services regardless of whether the act or the payment actually takes place.
Israel's state prosecutor's office has issued a miserable new directive clamping down on such lap dances in the country's strip clubs, claiming that under some circumstances dances could be considered an illegal act of prostitution.
Prosecutor Shlomo Lamberger has instructed police to increase the enforcement against such lap dances, which, in certain circumstances (such as the duration of the dance and the nature of the physical contact between the dancer and the customer)
will be considered as an act of prostitution-- which does not have a legal definition.
According to the new directive, law enforcement officials will be able to act against owners of strip clubs by issuing closing warrants, discontinuing the
clubs' business licenses, and in case of violations of the directive, filing indictments against such institutions.
The police have begun issuing warning letters to strip club owners around the country detailing the change in policy and warning
the owners of potential future police action. Anti-prostitution activists have hailed the new policy for giving the police an effective enforcement tool that will make it easier to close down strip clubs on the claim that prostitution activity is
occurring on the premises.
The new policy was developed after a Tel Aviv district court judge ruled that a strip club near the Ramat Gan Diamond Exchange could not be granted a license as a place of entertainment. The prosecutor's office then
assembled a team to look into grounds for deeming strip clubs as places of prostitution.