Israel's Justice Minister: Until Prostitution Is Criminalized, We’re Telling Our Kids It's OK

Two private members' bills making it a criminal offense to use sex workers clear first hurdle in Knesset

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, June 13, 2017.
Oren Ben Hakoon

Two private members’ bills that would make it a criminal offense for clients to visit sex workers were unanimously approved in their preliminary readings in the Knesset on Wednesday.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked also vowed to promote a government bill to criminalize clients of prostitution. “As long as there is no law prohibiting prostitution, we are signaling to our children that it is legitimate,” she said.

One of the private members’ bills was sponsored by MKs Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) and Zehava Galon (Meretz). The other was submitted by MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid).

Some months ago, the Justice Ministry set up a committee, headed by Justice Ministry Director General Emi Palmor, to study the treatment of prostitution. The committee is in the final stages of writing its report, Shaked said.

She also said the government supports government-sponsored legislation. “In light of the complexity of the required arrangement, which involves integrating criminal and noncriminal areas, and in view of the budgetary and administrative implications, the government believes legislation on this subject should be pursued through government legislation,” she said. That way, the various ministries involved could cooperate and reach an appropriate arrangement, she added.

The panel failed to decide on criminalizing prostitution itself, returning that decision to the Knesset. As the committee members explained, this is a moral question the legislators must decide upon.

However, the committee did discuss an administrative enforcement model, and decided on a model of full incrimination with better graded enforcement.

Contrary to the position of her professional team, Shaked tends to support criminalizing those who use prostitutes through administrative proceedings, which would mean fines rather than criminal proceedings.

The private members’ bills will now have to wait until the Justice Ministry submits its own bill on the matter.