Editorial |

The World’s Oldest Crime

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A prostitute photographed in Tel Aviv, 2010.
A prostitute photographed in Tel Aviv, 2010.Credit: ASAblanca / Getty Images

In December 2018 the Knesset unanimously passed into law a bill forbidding the consumption of prostitution. The law went into effect 18 months later, in July 2020, in an effort to allow the state to arrange the rehabilitation programs for those people trapped in the cycle of prostitution. Just before the law went into effect, the High Court of Justice dismissed petitions that had been filed against it.

This historic achievement, by which Israel joined countries like Sweden, Iceland, France and Canada, which are facilitating a breakthrough in their approach to the phenomenon of prostitution and trafficking in women, was delayed for half a year in an unlawful fashion by Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, the lackey of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Ohana refused to sign the enforcement order for the police, apparently in an attempt to gain some political capital for Likud. As a result, the Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution petitioned the High Court. The court forced Ohana to obey the law, and the minister deigned to sign the authorization order – as noted, after a six-month delay.

The Prohibition of the Consumption of Prostitution Law defines the consumption of prostitution as a crime. Its revolutionary approach is that it imposes both administrative punishment and rehabilitation on the “john,” recognizing him as the violator. The law also recognizes the damage done to those caught up in prostitution and presents a social-welfare approach that takes responsibility for the phenomenon and for eliminating it, without making the prostitutes responsible. Under the law, those trapped in prostitution will not be implicated, but instead will be offered options for rehabilitation.

Now that the responsible minister has finally signed the authorization, the police must reform their perception of prostitution. The police must stop treating the prostitutes as criminals but must see them as victims, while those paying for sex are the criminals.

This law is a crucial step, but it needs enforcement, punishment, rehabilitation, prevention, information campaigns and education to be effective. The Social Affairs Ministry and the Health Ministry must work together to advance comprehensive and respectful rehabilitation projects for prostitutes, and the Education Ministry must invest in information campaigns against the phenomenon and promote curricula on healthy sexuality.

Consuming prostitution is now a crime on the State of Israel’s books, and as such the state has joined the global effort to eradicate this phenomenon. The more countries adopt this revolutionary law, the greater the chances of reducing phenomena like sex tourism and trafficking in women. This is an important step in building a more humane and equitable society.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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