In a landmark ruling on Monday, an Israeli court ordered the closure of a strip club in a Tel Aviv suburb, ruling that, "Stripping can in no way be considered entertainment."
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Ramat Gan has been waging war against the strip club that has been operating by the Diamond Exchange commercial and business center for the past 24 years. The ruling could impact other similar venues operating in Israel, though.
In her decision, Judge Michal Agmon Gonen of the Tel Aviv District Court ruled that, while local planning laws allow for clubs and other places of entertainment to operate in the Diamond Exchange area, this does not include strip venues.
Sexual entertainment must not be with the confused objectification of women for the sake of sexual arousal, which is "not entertainment at all," Agmon Gonen ruled. She added that sex shows objectify and demean women, and are an affront to their dignity.
The proceedings began in 2011, when the city of Ramat Gan sued club owner Rami Yerushalmi for creating a venue to "watch sex acts" without a business permit. A year later, the city moved to postpone the hearing, saying that Yerushalmi was working on obtaining the permits.
Shortly afterwards, Yerushalmi filed for permission to make irregular use of a structure as a venue for "watching nude live shows". In 2014, the local planning and building committee rejected his request on the grounds that it conflicted with the "new character" that the city of Ramat Gan was trying to instate in the area of the stock exchange.
Yerushalmi appealed, arguing that the shows were licit entertainment in the area, according to the master plan, and contending that the local planning council was not entitled to bring in extraneous issues such as changing the character of the neighborhood.
The local planning council answered that city hall aspires to turn the area of the diamond exchange into a fancy, thriving, young, 24-hours-a-day area. But in 2015, the district appellate body accepted Yerushalmi's position, finding that the strip club was permissible use based on existing plans.
About two years ago, the local planning council appealed onwards; WIZO joined its motion as a friend of the court, arguing that nudie peep shows demean women and cannot be called "entertainment or fun".
Agmon Gonen accepted that position, ruling that the city has the right to change master plans in order to change the character of an area, including by tossing out sex venues. The business licensing law does enable a business to be licensed for peep shows, but, said the judge, that law also bore interpretation.
"The sheer fact that the law requires the sex business to be regulated does not attest that the law justifies such practices," she wrote. "On the other hand, the purpose of the above legislation – which addresses human dignity, prohibits trafficking in women, presenting people as objects, sexual harassment and so on – is to prevent the objectification of women (or people in general), their exploitation, their diminishment and their humiliation."
The appeals panel that she was overruling had neglected to address the argument that the purpose of the city's new plan was to give the diamond exchange area a new character. the correct interpretation of the plans for the area would have ruled out sex businesses, including stripping for the sake of sexual titillation, the judge wrote.
It is true that the case did not involve prostitution, some aspects of which are illegal, Agmon Gonen wrote, but the law acts to defeat the objectification of women and damage to their dignity as human beings. "Objectification in general, and in strip shows for sexual titillation in particular, stem from presenting the woman as passive, always agreeing to the demand for sex, and associating a sexual character to the sheer objectification of women. Men who come to watch strip shows to be sexually aroused, do this for their own sexual needs. They treat the women there as a tool to achieve their purpose, which is external to those women they do not see the women as objectives in and of themselves and do not care about their wellbeing and happiness."
Some claim the women doing the shows do not feel diminished: they chose to do this, the judge wrote. But even if an act is not experienced as humiliating, but it diminishes human dignity, it should be prohibited as diminishing to the basic values of society. "Meaning, an action or a behavior can be determined to objectify women and diminish their dignity even if they don't see it that way."