A U.S. State Department report released this week found that Israel is not complying with U.S. standards for combating human trafficking (as reported by Natasha Mozgovaya and Gili Cohen in Haaretz on June 29).
This is a shameful testimony to Israel's deterioration in the realm of human rights in general and the rights of aliens and labor migrants in particular.
The report found that while the government is trying to improve its protection of trafficking victims, a large proportion of them are penalized for offenses committed as part of their being trafficked and deprived of adequate treatment. It also said that foreign workers, both legal and illegal, "face conditions of forced labor ... restrictions on movement, inability to change or otherwise choose one's employer, nonpayment of wages, threats, sexual assault and physical intimidation."
These facts are well known to human rights groups, professionals and volunteers who work with labor migrants and victims of traffic in women. Israel makes lofty declarations about its treatment of foreigners, but its real policy is conducted in the Knesset, and in backyards that the manpower agencies and the traffickers in slaves rule with an iron fist.
Only a month ago, the Knesset passed a law binding foreign workers to their employers and to a specific region of the country. The authorities fail to enforce the prohibition on charging recruitment fees to labor migrants; the number of inspectors is meager; and the government is continuing the "revolving door" policy. This policy - in which, due to pressure from interested parties, increasing numbers of foreign laborers are deported even as ever-growing numbers of new ones are brought to Israel - makes it easier for the government to deny the problem.
Israeli society grew indifferent to the ongoing occupation and the abuse of tens of thousands of cheap, unprotected Palestinian laborers. When they disappeared, for what was termed reasons of security, new workers were found - transparent, frightened aliens, deprived of their rights. The indifference turned into obtuseness.
This ugly anomaly will not change overnight, but Israel must adopt the report's recommendations to increase supervision and enforcement and revoke the law binding labor migrants to employers. This is the least it can do as a first step toward ending Israel's dubious status as a paradise for human trafficking.
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