Israel Passes Law Banning the Buying of Sex

Under law, which takes effect in a year and a half, the fine for the first offense will be 2,000 shekels and a third can lead to an indictment

File photo: A sex worker sits outside in Tel Aviv, 2017.
Ilan Assayag

The Knesset on Monday unanimously passed a law forbidding the buying of sex, as Israel joins other countries that have taken this route in recent years such as Sweden and France.

According to the law, which passed in a 34-0 vote, anyone buying or attempting to buy sex would be fined 2,000 shekels ($534), which doubles for a second offense. For any further violations the offender could be prosecuted and the fine could reach 75,300 shekels.

The law goes into effect in a year and a half, to give the state a chance to create rehabilitation services for prostitutes. An interministerial committee on reducing prostitution recommended that the government allocate tens of millions of shekels for this purpose.

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The bill was sponsored by the then-head of the Meretz party, Zehava Galon, and MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, who last week defected from Habayit Hayehudi to the new Hayamin Hehadash party.

The bill passed its first vote in October, while a similar bill, sponsored by MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) passed unanimously in July with more than 70 supporters.

“The 20th Knesset is recording one of its most important steps: Consumption of prostitution is a crime in the law books of the State of Israel,” Moalem-Refaeli said during the debate. “This move wouldn’t have come to fruition without the significant realization that prostitution contradicts every value any of us believes in. ‘Man is beloved because he was made in [God’s] image’ is the fundamental opposite of prostitution.”

Lavie added, “I’m pleased that on our watch, after 10 years of work, we’ve reached this rare level of cooperation. We can’t be happy until a solution is provided.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who did not come to the Knesset but turned the bills into a government-sponsored proposal, said that the “consumption of prostitution is a moral failing that seriously harms the status of women. A woman’s body is not an object to be sold to the highest bidder.”

MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union), who actively promoted the bill, said that “the war on the clients of prostitutes is similar to the war on slavery and the freeing of slaves, no less. In the beginning, the call to make the johns the offenders was considered radical and revolutionary, but in the end we arrived at this law, which is definitely a significant and historic step.”

Attorney Nitzan Kahana, codirector of the Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution, said the passage of the law ended 2018 with good news for all Israeli women.

“The Knesset is fulfilling its obligation to work with all its might to eradicate the cycle of prostitution,” she said. “We promised to end exploitation for prostitution, which is a social disgrace for us all and initiates many young women into a world of exploitation and violence. Today we took a historic step.”