Public Security Minister Seeks to Delay Criminalization of Johns

Arguing that imposing fines is ineffective in dealing with prostitution clients, Amir Ohana wants to wait until therapeutic alternatives are available

Jonathan Lis
Josh Breiner
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The sex scene on Tel Aviv's Solomon Street, September 2017.
A scene on Tel Aviv's Solomon Street, September 2017. Credit: Ilan Assayag
Jonathan Lis
Josh Breiner

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana is attempting to obtain a six-month delay in the implementation of a law that makes it a crime to pay for prostitution services. Ohana says that the law is ineffective in not giving violators the option of therapy.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn and Labor and Social Affairs Minister Itzik Shmuli both object to any delay, and Ohana’s request, which was directed to Nissenkorn, Shmuli and various law enforcement officials in a letter, is an exceptional step in connection with a law that is due to take effect on July 10.

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“The law created a new crime that had never before been barred by legislation,” Ohana wrote in the letter, which was obtained by Haaretz. “Enforcing it merely by imposing fines on consumers of prostitution without the alternative of an educational therapeutic workshop misses the point and is likely to be perceived as persecution of citizens rather than a systematic solution that reduces the consumption of prostitution. To fulfill the purpose of the law, the issue must be addressed from a holistic perspective and allow for a treatment and rehabilitation track.”

The law would require police to fine those caught patronizing prostitutes, but also provides for alternatives to a fine that are to be spelled out in regulations. The regulations, which were to have been issued by the justice and social affairs ministries and approved by the Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee, were never issued because of the country’s repeated election campaigns over the past year.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana.
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The law states that the alternatives would “impart knowledge and increase awareness regarding the damage caused to populations in prostitution.”

At a session of the Constitution Committee on Monday, a representative of the Public Security Ministry said that Ohana wanted to delay implementing the law by half a year so that regulations providing for a therapy track could be drawn up. The police said that creating such a track would take up to nine months.

Ohana, who is from the Likud party, can attempt to get the law amended to delay its implementation, but Nissenkorn, of Kahol Lavan, has made it clear that he opposes any delay. “The law against consuming prostitution will go into effect as planned, on July 10,” he tweeted. “We will apply the required solutions for rehabilitation, therapy and assistance. Israel will join a list of advanced countries that have made it clear that prostitution is an unacceptable norm that must be curbed.”

Kahol Lavan has veto power over legislation initiated by Likud, meaning that Ohana, who was justice minister until the new government was installed on May 17, would not be able to get an amendment to the law passed without Kahol Lavan’s agreement.

Knesset member Karin Elharrar (Yesh Atid), who chaired the committee debate, also objected to any delay. “This is very upsetting. Here’s a minister [Ohana] who until half a second ago was the justice minister. No one was stopping him from working on regulations. That same minister is now appointed public security minister and is telling us, ‘Actually, there are no regulations and until there are regulations, don’t talk to me,’” she said.

Knesset member Keren Barak (Likud) was also critical of Ohana, a party colleague of hers. “The legislative process is over,” she said. “We have to respect the law and not find cracks in it.”

Aya Goretzky, the police representative at the committee hearing, told the lawmakers that the police will be ready to begin enforcing the law next week. The police, along with an outside supplier, she said, have developed an impressive computer-based course for police officers on how to deal with prostitutes in respectful way, and only officers who pass the test will be authorized to enforce the law.

A 62-year-old Palestinian woman at work as a prostitute on Tel Aviv's Finn Street, September 2017.
A 62-year-old Palestinian woman at work as a prostitute on Tel Aviv's Finn Street, September 2017.Credit: Ilan Assayag

She said the police believe that fines without a therapeutic process is an incorrect way to deal with the issue, but that new regulations would require another six to nine months to develop in cooperation with the Social Affairs Ministry.

The law, which was passed in December 2018, provides for fines of 2,000 shekels ($579) and double that for a repeat offenders for consuming or attempting to consume prostitution services. The law’s sponsors have said that it is aimed at criminalizing prostitutes’ clients and making the consumption of prostitution services illegitimate, in addition to providing a massive, unprecedented investment in the rehabilitation of prostitutes.

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