Tourism Ministry Considers Sanctions on Israeli Hotels That Allow Prostitution

'There's a strong connection today between tourism and prostitution, and Israeli hotels are becoming places where women provide sex services,' says Knesset member.

Outside the old bus station in Tel Aviv. The average age of the girls entering prostitution is 13 to 14.
Nir Kafri

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin plans to levy sanctions on hotels that allow prostitution on their premises.

While prostitution at hotels is already illegal, the law is rarely enforced because no agency is responsible for monitoring compliance. The Tourism Ministry says it has no idea how many hotels violate the law, but it knows that some do and that criminals are exploiting the loophole.

Levin plans to put some agency in charge of enforcing the law, have it hire inspectors and let them impose sanctions, which could include shutting hotels for up to 30 days.

Today, “even if such activity is discovered at a hotel, no sanctions will be imposed on it, and the police don’t look for such activity at hotels,” Levin told Haaretz on Tuesday.

Responsibility for monitoring hotels’ compliance with laws is currently split between the local authorities and the Economy Ministry. Levin said the Tourism Ministry would be happy to take responsibility for enforcing the ban on prostitution at hotels, but putting the Economy Ministry or Public Security Ministry in charge would also be fine.

While police will respond if someone reports to them about prostitution at a hotel, no agency currently carries out proactive inspections.

Also Tuesday, the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women held a meeting on the tourism industry’s role in fighting the trafficking of women.

“There’s a strong connection today between tourism and prostitution, and Israeli hotels are becoming places where women provide sex services,” said the committee chairwoman Aida Touma-Suliman (Joint Arab List).

The Tourism Ministry’s legal adviser, Sharon Meir, told the panel the ministry regularly holds seminars on this issue for hotels, and the travel agents association has adopted an ethics code on preventing the trafficking of women. But the Israel Hotels Association has yet to adopt the code, she said.

A Justice Ministry representative, Dr. Merav Shmueli, said the ministry was divided over what legal responsibility hotels bear for what happens in their rooms. Because nowadays most prostitutes from abroad arrive legally as tourists, rather than being smuggled into the country, the legal situation is less clear, she said.

Haaretz reported last week that since Israel stopped requiring visas from Ukraine and Russia, the number of prostitutes coming as tourists has risen dramatically.

The result, said a government source, is that prostitution now happens more in hotels, “which turn a blind eye, or in the worst case earn money from it,” and less in brothels and apartments, or on the streets.