Israeli Lawmakers Delay Enforcement of Law Criminalizing Use of Prostitute Services

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FILE PHOTO: A prostitute is seen on the street in south Tel Aviv, July 27, 2017.
FILE PHOTO: A prostitute is seen on the street in south Tel Aviv, July 27, 2017.Credit: \ Ilan Assayag

At the request of the police, a Knesset committee on Monday postponed the implementation of the law which makes soliciting or patronizing prostitutes a criminal offense.

The police had asked for a four-month delay in order to prepare properly for enforcing the law, including updating procedures and training police officers. The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee agreed to a two­-month delay.

­­ The law was ratified by the Knesset in December 2018, without a single Knesset member voting against it. Its implementation was postponed by a year and a half, until July 2020, to allow government ministries to prepare properly.

The law defines visiting prostitutes as an offense, and states that the police can impose a fine of 2,000 shekels ($586) for using or seeking to use the services of a prostitute, or double that amount for a repeat offense.

The police’s request for a delay in the law comes a week after Haaretz reported that Public Security Minister Amir Ohana was attempting to obtain a six-month delay in the implementation of the law that makes it a crime to pay for prostitution services. Ohana said the law is ineffective in not giving violators the option of therapy. Ohana announced he would not sign the regulations authorizing the police to fine those who frequent prostitutes until there are “arrangements for aspects of treatment and rehabilitation” for sex workers.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana is seen on Knesset swearing-in day, May 17, 2020.Credit: Alex Kolomoisky

In a letter to the Justice Ministry, Ohana stated that he would block the police from enforcing the law indefinitely – after he tried unsuccessfully to delay the date that the law went into effect, July 10. Government sources said Ohana was attempting to circumvent the Knesset and called this is a very unusual step.

During the committee session, the deputy chairwoman, MK Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid-Telem) assailed Ohana’s decision. “It’s a scandal. Minister Ohana has assumed authority that is not his and I have asked the attorney general about the matter,” said Elharar, adding that she could not bear to imagine a “situation in which every minister does what he wants with laws that have been passed by the Knesset” and overrules them.

The deputy director general of the Public Security Ministry, Eliezer Rosenbaum, defended the move. “The public security minister is not signing for now, he wants to ensure that ...the enforcement of treatment and rehabilitation works well,” he said, referring to the need to develop treatment programs for clients and rehabilitation programs for prostitutes. Elharar blasted him, asking, “Who let you take the law hostage? With what authority?”

The Knesset committee also approved the regulations intended to enforce the law as an emergency order for five years. The new regulations enable the police to replace the fines with participation in a seminar of six to 10 hours on the harms of prostitution. A person who has been fined may ask to attend the seminar instead of paying the fine.

The police can impose a fine of 2,000 shekels for using or seeking to use prostitution services, or double that amount for a repeat offense – up to 73,500 shekels in extreme cases.

Yinon Matalon, the head of a police computer department, told the committee that the police need four months to coordinate with the Welfare Ministry on the seminar alternative and examine its feasibility. A representative of the police’s legal department said that at this stage the police are not enforcing the law because they have not been authorized to do so. “The police officers have undergone training, but there must be authorization of the police commissioner by the public security minister, and because that has not been granted, the police are not enforcing the law,” she said.

With this law, Israel joined other countries that the Swedish model in dealing with prostitution, which focuses on incriminating the clients and seeks to make visiting prostitutes illegitimate. But supporters of the law noted it must be accompanied by government investment to rehabilitate women working as prostitutes.

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