Israeli Minister Refuses to Authorize Fines for Frequenting Prostitutes

After trying to stall controversial law, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana informed the Justice Ministry that he would not allow enforcement until measures to treat and rehabilitate sex workers are agreed upon

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Public Security Minister Amir Ohana (center), Sderot, August 16, 2020
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana (center), Sderot, August 16, 2020Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana has announced he would not sign an order authorizing the police to fine those who frequent prostitutes until there are “arrangements for aspects of treatment and rehabilitation” for sex workers.

In a letter to the Justice Ministry, Ohana stated that would block the police from enforcing the law indefinitely.

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This comes after Ohana tried unsuccessfully to delay the date that the law went into effect, July 10. Government sources say that Ohana is now attempting to circumventing the Knesset and that this is a very unusual step.

The Law for Prohibition of the Consumption Prostitution Services defines visiting prostitutes as an administrative offense, and states that the police can impose a fine of 2,000 shekels ($586) for consuming or seeking to consume prostitution, or double that amount for a repeat offense.

The Knesset plenum after the approval of the law prohibiting the consumption of prostitution, Jerusalem, December 2018
The Knesset plenum after the approval of the law prohibiting the consumption of prostitution, Jerusalem, December 2018Credit: Emil Salman

The law, the result of rare cooperation between the coalition and opposition, was passed in December 2018, with not a single lawmaker voting against it. Thus Israel, like other countries, adopted the Swedish model in the battle against prostitution, which focuses on implicating 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.

Ohana tried to delay the law’s implementation on the grounds that it didn’t provide sufficiently for the rehabilitation of prostitutes or their customers. But Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn and Social Affairs Minister Itzik Shmuli objected.

The letter to the Justice Ministry, obtained by Haaretz, was written by Public Security Ministry legal adviser Ariel Siesel, who wrote that Ohana “Believes that it’s proper that the law be enforced with combined tools (of rehabilitation alongside enforcement)… and as such the relevant agencies are requested to expedite the promotion of arrangements for aspects of treatment and rehabilitation.” Siesel said that only after “the complete preparations of the various agencies,” would Ohana “work to authorize the acting police commissioner in accordance with the Administrative Offenses Law.”

Police conduct a raid on apartments where sex worker are employed, Tel Aviv, March 22, 2020
Police conduct a raid on apartments where sex worker are employed, Tel Aviv, March 22, 2020Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Siesel noted that the law was given 18 months to go into effect in order for the relevant bodies to prepare properly, but that the government ministries responsible for providing these rehabilitation solutions were not ready to implement and enforce the law.

A government source involved in the matter criticized the minister’s move, saying “Ohana failed to stop the law, but instead of accepting the legislature’s will, he decided on his own to use a technicality of signing an order to prevent its implementation. This is another violation of the separation of powers.” The source added that “It’s is true that the rehabilitation [program] is not complete and there is more to improve, but if you want to delay the law, you have to do it in an orderly procedure that gets Knesset approval.”

Nissenkorn said the law was an important statement against prostitution by the Knesset, and that, “The relevant ministries are working to make all the required solutions available for rehabilitating those who survive the cycle of prostitution. Since the police have made it clear that they are ready to begin enforcement, there’s no justification for delaying the law’s application.”

Ohana’s office issued a statement, saying that “Minister Ohana will sign the order after there is a therapeutic and rehabilitative response for the populations in prostitution, as well as programs in the realms of health, welfare and education, as stipulated in the law and as recommended by the interministerial committee."

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