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But the issue may soon head to the Knesset: The Justice Ministry announced last week it will form a committee to evaluate whether to criminalize paying for sex, broadly modeling itself on such countries as Sweden, Norway, and, as of earlier this month, France. While prostitution itself remains legal in Israel, pimping, sex trafficking, and running a brothel are punishable by law.
While it remains to be seen what the committee will recommend, if anything, the unlikely pair of lawmakers has in the past suggested fines or up to a year in jail for clients, with the option for first-time offenders to attend seminars on prostitution in lieu of criminal proceedings.
Galon and Moalem-Refaeli are also proposing expanding welfare services for prostitutes. In , a similar bill by Galon and Kadima MK Orit Zuaretz was supported by the key Ministerial Committee for Legislation, but the government dissolved before it could be taken further.
However, recent polls show Israelis may not be entirely on board with punishing people who hire prostitutes, even though they believe it will discourage the phenomenon. Meanwhile, critics have warned the bid would effectively demolish the notion that women have the right to sell their bodies, may worsen their conditions as prostitutes are forced to go underground, and creates an asymmetrical justice system that punishes clients but exonerates prostitutes.
According to the first comprehensive study of sex workers by the Welfare Ministry last month, most of them are Jewish, Israeli, mothers, over the age of 30 and from the former Soviet Union, and they entered the industry for financial reasons.