Opinion

How Israel's Tourism Industry Enables Prostitution and Human Trafficking

Often pimps and crime organizations prefer to use hotels as a substitute for brothels to blur their involvement and evade the enforcement authorities

File photo: Calling cards for call girls, left on the streets in Tel Aviv.
Tomer Appelbaum

The indictment for human trafficking, pimping and money laundering that the state filed in July 2016 against Elisa Zamlen and her partner Alexander Radin revealed that the prostitution network that they ran for six years operated in hotel rooms in Jerusalem, among other places. The trafficking victims entered Israel with tourist visas and were taken from the airport to the hotel rooms awaiting them, where they worked as prostitutes.

Prostitution in hotels is a kind of open secret. Many hotels post notices under the category of rooms for rent on the Sex Adir website, which slyly advertises sex services for pay and prostitution ads, noting that the notices on the website dont hint at or advertise sex services. You can learn more about the connection between the pimps and the hotels from ads on the website, which offer clients call girls (a euphemism for prostitutes) directly to their own apartment or to a hotel room anywhere in the country.

Get the best of Haaretz: Follow us on Facebook

In many interviews I conducted with prositutes it turned out that hotels are the main site of prostitution. Sometimes, the pimp rents a room, brings prostitutes to it and invites clients, while he stands on guard inside or outside the hotel, to pay for female, male and transgender prostitutes who are picked up from the street and driven to the hotel. Other times, an escort agency (a euphemism for a pimp or a crime organization) sends a woman to a hotel where the client for prostitution is awaiting her.

Often pimps and crime organizations prefer to use hotels as a substitute for brothels. In that way they can blur their involvement and evade the enforcement authorities – especially when it comes to trafficking victims– to save the costs of operating a brothel and to create a front as though this were independent prostitution. The hotels also profit handsomely from the phenomenon, and therefore they turn a blind eye to the exploitation taking place in their rooms.

There is presently a strong connection between tourism and prostitution, and Israeli hotels are becoming a place where women provide sex services. The hotels enter this circle, sometimes knowingly and sometimes unknowingly, said MK Aida Touma-Suliman during a 2015 discussion in the Knesset Committee for the Status of Women, which she heads.

Since then many proposals for handling the problem have been made, but in effect nothing has been done, with the exception of a seminar day sponsored by the Tourism Ministry and the Israel Hotels Association, which focused on human trafficking in the tourism industry. Worse, in a repeat discussion held by the Committee for the Status of Wome on July 18, there was a report of a deterioration in the situation. A representative of the Hotels Association revealed the technique used in hotels to deal with the problem: When reception clerks identify a prostitute in the area of the hotel, they harass her specifically. When the organizations that help prostitutes said that harassing a prostitute is not a solution, but rather abuse of the weak link, the representative said indifferently, Were not responsible for prostitution.

The time has come for the Hotels Association, the Tourism Ministry and the police to stop providing cover for the criminal behavior of pimps and those engaged in trafficking in the hotels. Instead they should work to eliminate prostitution and human trafficking by means of study days on the subject for the hotel workers, identifying the phenomenon by designated supervisors, imposing sanctions or even issuing injunctions to close the hotels where prostitution is taking place for 30 days. Hotels that operate as brothels and indirectly cooperate with pimps and sex traffickers cannot continue to evade their responsibility for the flourishing of prostitution and trafficking in women in Israel.