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Israel downgraded in State Department human trafficking report

US criticizes Jewish state for fewer investigations and prosecutions in trafficking cases in 2020 compared to 2019

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Demonstrators take part in a protest against prostitution outside the Gogo strip club in Tel Aviv on December 22, 2016. (FLASH90)
Illustrative: Demonstrators take part in a protest against prostitution outside the Gogo strip club in Tel Aviv on December 22, 2016. (FLASH90)

Israel was downgraded from Tier 1 to Tier 2 in a report on human trafficking released by the US State Department on Thursday. According to the report, the decision was made since Israel did not “meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.”

“The government [of Israel] maintained woefully inadequate efforts to prevent human trafficking and government policies towards foreign workers increased their vulnerability to trafficking,” according to the detailed State Department report. “Eritrean and Sudanese male and female migrants and asylum-seekers are highly vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking in Israel.”

Israel had been ranked as a Tier 1 country since 2012. In addition to Cyprus, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal and Switzerland, Israel was judged this year to have not made “appreciable progress” in tackling human trafficking and was therefore downgraded. Germany, Denmark, Italy, Norway and close to 100 other countries are all considered Tier 2. More than 50 countries are on the “Tier 2 Watch List” and an additional 17 are listed as Tier 3.

The report noted that “Israeli children, Israeli Bedouin and Palestinian women and girls, foreign women, and transgender adults and children are vulnerable to sex trafficking in Israel,” adding that many traffickers utilize social media to exploit young girls. “In 2020, an NGO reported there were approximately 3,000 Israeli child sex trafficking victims in Israel.”

According to the State Department, which relied in part on local NGOs for data and information, the Israeli government’s “victim identification policies sometimes re-traumatized trafficking victims and delayed access to necessary care, at times for years.” It also noted that, when it comes to forced labor trafficking, “Palestinians and foreign workers, primarily from South and Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Union” are considered to be the most vulnerable populations.

The report also criticized Israel for a drop in human trafficking investigations and prosecutions in 2020 over 2019. It noted that in 2020, the Israel Police initiated 11 investigations compared with 18 investigations in 2019. The report also cited just nine prosecutions in total in 2020 compared to 20 in 2019.

But the State Department report commended Israel for continuing to offer “a wide range of protective services for victims of all forms of trafficking” as well as for encouraging victims “to assist in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers” without requiring their participation in court cases in order to secure visas.

The State Department recommended Israel adopt a long list of measures, including expediting the process of identifying and referring trafficking victims “to appropriate care without re-traumatizing victims,” an increase in government officials working to identify trafficking victims, better screening of the African migrant and foreign worker populations for victims, and the creation of a Knesset committee or subcommittee to address labor trafficking.

Last year, Israel indicted former top athlete Svetlana Gnezdilov for running a sex trafficking ring that allegedly brought women from abroad to the country for prostitution. According to the indictment, Gnezdilov managed the trafficking ring for five years in a series of apartments in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, under the guise of offering massage services.

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