By Dana Levy
During the 1990s and early 2000s, Israel was a major sex trafficking destination. Thousands of vulnerable young women were tricked or abducted from former Soviet Union countries and brought to Israel where traffickers and pimps made fortunes exploiting their prostitution.
The situation was so bad that the US State Department downgraded Israel to ‘Tier 3’ (the lowest rating) in its annual Trafficking in Persons report. This, and pressure from Israeli feminists, led Israel to introduce strong anti-trafficking legislation in 2006.
This bore fruit in May 2012, when the biggest human trafficking trial in Israel’s history came to a successful conclusion as four members of a trafficking ring were convicted and sentenced to significant prison terms.
The leader of the trafficking ring was convicted of pimping, human trafficking, operating a brothel, and money laundering, and got a total sentence of 18 years and seven months.
The judge indicated that he had no choice but to impose a heavy prison sentence on him because of the vileness of the crimes. The prosecutor’s office said that they hoped the sentence would send “a strong message to Israel’s citizens that they will be severely punished even if they commit human-trafficking offences outside the country’s borders.”
The gang had worked with criminal networks to locate hundreds of impoverished young women in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and Uzbekistan and smuggled them into Israel, where they sold them to an escort service or imprisoned them in one of the many brothels they owned and operated. Some of the young women were forced to engage in prostitution 17 hours a day, 364 days a year. The gang is believed to have made millions of Israeli shekels.
The verdict described the leader as the “top of a pyramid of criminal and disgraceful activity” and said that words could not describe the cynicism and contempt with which he and the other gang members had treated the women.
The judge in the case said of the leader of the gang, “Nothing deters him – not prior convictions nor lengthy jail sentences” and he gained the nickname “the greatest pimp in the history of the state.” But this didn’t stop him from appealing the severity of his sentence, and in 2014 the prison term was reduced to 13 years.
This year, after serving just 11 years in prison, he applied for early release. His victims, the ‘Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution’ parliamentary group, and even the State Attorney objected. One of his victims told the court that she was still healing the scars of the crimes committed against her and continued to experience significant difficulties in her life.
Despite this, the parole board chose to release him early and an injunction was filed to protect his identity – even though his name was widely reported at the time of his conviction. Apparently, he convinced the parole board of his “sincere” remorse and that he was undergoing a “process of recovery.”
But what message does his early release send to his victims and to all the other victims of the sex industry? What message does it send to the public, especially now that Israel has declared its commitment to eradicating the sex trade by adopting the Nordic Model? How is it a deterrent for others who might want to try their hands at pimping?
And what does his early release say about the value of vulnerable young women? He was convicted of trafficking hundreds of young women. He caused each one of those young women immeasurable suffering that has scared them for life and made their lives incalculably more difficult.
The greatest pimp in Israel’s history claims he is “recovering.” But many of his victims may never have that luxury.
You have to ask, why does society place so little value on the lives of poor young women.
Dana Levy is an Israeli prostitution survivor and abolitionist activist. Follow her on Twitter: @DanaLevy__