Washington — From nailing pimps to cracking down on forced labor, Israel is doing a much better job of preventing so-called human trafficking, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of State.
Trumpeting successes like the convictions of a pimp who sold Eastern European women into sex slavery for $5,000, Israeli officials say they are proud to have made the top tier of an annual report on the issue, put out by the United States.
“We didn’t do this to satisfy the State Department,” said Rachel Gershuni, national anti-trafficking coordinator at Israel’s Ministry of Justice. “We did it because Israel thought it was the right thing to do.”
The upgrade means that, for the first time, the United States regards Israel among the countries actively fighting trafficking of people for prostitution and slavery and taking care of trafficking victims.
It came as a piece of good news about Israel’s treatment of foreigners at a time when headlines are dominated by reports on growing xenophobia and a crackdown against illegal African immigrants.
Still, nongovernmental organizations in Israel that deal with human trafficking criticized the move and said Israel has much more to do.
In its annual report, “Trafficking in Persons,” published June 19, the State Department was full of praise for Israel’s actions. “The Government of Israel fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking,” the report states, noting improvements in protection of victims, in prosecution of traffickers and in prevention of human trafficking activity.
The issue has historically been a sore spot. Israel was initially placed in Tier 3 of the three-tier ranking system, which was launched in 2001, putting it alongside other countries that were not responsive at all to the issue. It later climbed to the second tier but in 2006 dropped to the Tier 2 Watch List, which indicates a risk of falling to the third category. Israel later climbed back to a regular Tier 2 status, and the recent report added Israel to the Tier 1 club for the first time.
It is one of 32 states in the world that earned the top grade. Gershuni added that the upgrade should have taken place two years ago, because of the improvement already made at the time in Israel’s treatment of the trafficking problem.
Since the 1990s, Israel has been a hot spot for trafficking in people in two of its harshest forms: prostitution of women, mainly from Eastern Europe, and forced labor of workers coming from a variety of countries and facing modern-day slave-labor conditions.
Women forced into prostitution are often smuggled into Israel by traffickers through the Sinai desert border, then held in subhuman conditions in brothels and raped and sexually abused by their pimps. Few dare to escape, and those who do face the challenge of convincing Israeli authorities that they were victims.