A new policy approved by the Tel Aviv Municipality on Wednesday will make it significantly more difficult for new strip clubs to open in the city, a move that follows closures of many such establishments under state guidelines banning prostitution.
Tel Aviv's planning and building subcommittee approved a new planning document that bans strip clubs from receiving permits to use a building for anything other than the use it was built for. The owners of any strip club operating without a permit could be indicted for committing a criminal violation of the planning and building law.
Pursuant to the plan, the committee will have to discuss every new strip club proposal on a case-by-case basis, assessing whether or not the request to use a building for an alternative purpose is justified. In practice, the municipality will be able to easily reject these permit requests, preventing new strip clubs from opening in the city, even though stripping itself is legal.
In its decision, the committee said that there is a clear connection between what goes on in strip clubs and the illegal prostitution industry, as "both include the objectification and debasement of women." Strip clubs have a negative influence on the city "due to the level of harassment, which has the potential to threaten the public peace and demands clear supervision," it continued.
In addition, and in light of objections raised at the committee's meeting, the municipality will discuss complementary rehabilitation services for women who worked in these clubs and are now out of work.
Over the past eight months, most of Tel Aviv's strip clubs have been shuttered following police raids enforcing the instructions of the State Prosecutor’s Office, according to which lap dancing is considered prostitution, and buying one is a criminal offense.
“We feel persecuted," Efrat Rubinstein of the strippers' union told the committee. "We were hurt by these actions. Even before the coronavirus we were unemployed, and many of us are in the private sector.”
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According to the city, there are currently five open strip clubs in Tel Aviv. All of them are operating in buildings zoned for other uses, and to be granted a permit, they will need to receive approval from the local planning and building committee.
During the meeting, which was held via online videoconference, Deputy Mayor Zipi Brand said that the way to eject the stripping industry from the city is through these automatic permit rejections. The city will eradicate the phenomenon by adopting an approach that views it as the objectification and debasement of women, which does not fit with the values of the city," she said. Brand also called for rehabilitation and employment plans for women forced out of the industry.
Rubinstein, the representative of the strippers' union, said during the discussion that since the beginning of the year, over 200 women who had been employed by strip clubs had lost their livelihood. "They haven't presented us with any compensation plan," she said. "The place we've been forced into is much worse than the clubs, which are supervised and guarded. In this meeting, a lot of big words were said, forgetting that we're talking about human beings."
Deputy Mayor Assaf Harel told the committee: “If the basic assumption is that stripping is the same as prostitution, then it cancels out the liberal claims of freedom of occupation. But if this generalization is like the claim that soft and hard drugs are one and the same, then we have a generalization here that does an injustice to its complexity." He added, "If the act itself is debasement, then we also need to ban stripping at bachelor and bachelorette parties all over our city."