In early March, 1998, Diane Sawyer at CBS ran an investigative news item that exposed widespread prostitution in Israel.

Sawyer focused on women who are being lured into the “profession” to Israel from the former Soviet Union, conveying the impression that the only prostitutes in Israel are those who are “imported” from abroad – no one knows how many. And the recent few news stories that have appeared in Israel on prostitution have also focused on women “imported” from abroad

However, yet another worrisome phenomenon concerns the increasing number of homegrown native Israeli women and adolescent girls who are lured into the trade.

A 1970 study on Israeli prostitution, The Mark of Cain, by the respected Israeli criminologist, Shlomo Shoham, explored how young women and girls in Israeli development town girls had used the profession to “advance themselves in society” and to work themselves “out of the rut of development town life”. Israeli social service professionals in Israel’s three dozen outlying development towns continue to report that the “export” of development town prostitutes to Israel’s big cities and to Arab villages in the Galilee region continues to this day on a wide scale.

Most recently, a social work professional walked me through a ten block area in the heart of Tel Aviv, passing by embassies, luxury hotels, coffee shops and businesses. My colleague pointed out more than thirty places where prostitutes now run their business. She confirmed that, yes, while there were some immigrants involved in the trade, the vast majority of Tel Aviv brothels employed hundreds of native Sabras, which involves the widespread corruption of minors, the increased spread of sex-related diseases and narcotics use, the acceleration of organized crime.

Israeli prostitution has become an integral part of a “cottage industry”, with an interlocking network of those who stand to earn something – hotel clerks, coffeeshop owners, waitresses, building contractors of foreign workers & tour operators who seek women to provide customers with “perks”. Who ever said that crime does not pay?

Young Israeli teenagers who are enticed by the promise of instant wealth to modeling schools and cosmetics parlors. Today, ads appear in discos and areas frequented by teenagers of 16, 17, and 18 are “encouraged” to join the “escort services” throughout the country.

The option of joining a local “escort service” for a handsome remuneration seems quite tempting. Some of these “services” advertise for students from Tel Aviv University to ” work their way through college” with an easy job on the side. Pimping is a sophisticated industry in a country where there is just too much cash flow, when people can sell hovels in any major Israeli city for hundreds of thousands of dollars. And even though illegal pimping and prostitution occur in broad daylight, the Israeli police seem to be turning a blind eye to the subject.

And whenever there is a crackdown, police tend to focus more on the immigrants – and so so does the press.

Most people in Israel are not aware of the extent of the problem. The subject is hardly mentioned on the news, nor on any of the dozen investigative news features that dominate the Israeli print and electronic media.

Part of the reason that the Israeli media are not “hopping” on the issue lies in the fact that major owners of the Israeli media have placed themselves in a situation of conflict of interest that prevents them from covering the subject in any depth. How has that happened?

You see, the major Israeli media have joined this cottage industry.

Each of the major news syndicates in Israel carry hundreds of ads each day that openly advertise prostitution services throughout the country.

Even HaAretz, which prides itself as being a “clean” publication, runs a Tel Aviv weekend supplement, known as “HaIr”, which runs prostitution ads with an additional feature nude pictures of the young women seeking business. HaAretz does not ask its readers whether they want to read HaIr – It gives it out for free every week. Most recently, the Israeli edition of THE International Herald Tribune also began to include HaIR wrapped up in its Friday edition, again, without asking its readers.

The three major families who own the major media in Israel, including a controlling interest in Israel Commercial and cable TV networks, prefer to advertise for prostitution rather than cover the subject.

The two daily Israeli tabloids run as many as 100 prostitution ads a day. Each tabloid demands upfront payment for such advertisements. A policy that sounds appropriate for the “profession”?

That means that each major Israeli paper grosses $10,000 a day in cash receipts this source of advertising revenue alone. At a time when the Israeli small businesses are in a slump, logic would that you do not you “bite the gland that feeds you”?

And in the late-’90’s atmosphere in Israel that lavishes in neuvau riche freedom conspicuous consumption No politician, civil rights organization, or “women’s organization seems to have courage to fight Israel’s media moguls. Instead, the left-wing Meretz/Peace Now political faction in Jerusalem’s city council suggested that the Israeli police protect prostitution, not stop it.

At this point in time, the entire matter of prostitution and pornography are often portrayed by the Israeli media as an obsession of Orthodox Jews.

Perhaps the time has come to coordinate a new coalition who could influence the police to do their job. This new group could be compromised of anyone who cares about the issue.

One legal action in the Israel High Court of Justice would be enough to order the Israel State Prosecutor to take criminal action against anyone who promotes or advertises for prostitutes.

Yes, coalitions on moral issues can work in Israel.

An encouraging precedent About ten years ago, a certain Israeli media mogul tried to “pioneer” an Israeli version of Penthouse, which she promised would be on every newsstand and in every corner of society. A creative community organizer colleague of mine raised the funds to hire a staffer who organized a unique coalition of traditional Orthodox Jews and Israeli feminists to threaten a consumer boycott of selected Penthouse advertisers. Israel’s first national porno rag never made it past two issues.

Yet one need not be a feminist or an Orthodox Jew to get involved. Nor do you have to be a social work professional. I guess that some of my passion for this subject has to do with being the proud father of three daughters (and two boys). As a responsible parent, can I sit back without challenging a norm in Israeli society that suddenly and sanctions and encourages prostitution?

I find it ironic that the first letter of concern that I received from my grandmother when I first came to Israel as a student in 1970 was about her worry over prostitution in Israel. She had seen something about it in the Jewish Advocate of Boston. “You should fight such a thing in Jewish country”, she wrote me. She was right.


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David Bedein
David Bedein is an MSW community organizer and an investigative journalist.   In 1987, Bedein established the Israel Resource News Agency at Beit Agron to accompany foreign journalists in their coverage of Israel, to balance the media lobbies established by the PLO and their allies.   Mr. Bedein has reported for news outlets such as CNN Radio, Makor Rishon, Philadelphia Inquirer, Los Angeles Times, BBC and The Jerusalem Post, For four years, Mr. Bedein acted as the Middle East correspondent for The Philadelphia Bulletin, writing 1,062 articles until the newspaper ceased operation in 2010. Bedein has covered breaking Middle East negotiations in Oslo, Ottawa, Shepherdstown, The Wye Plantation, Annapolis, Geneva, Nicosia, Washington, D.C., London, Bonn, and Vienna. Bedein has overseen investigative studies of the Palestinian Authority, the Expulsion Process from Gush Katif and Samaria, The Peres Center for Peace, Peace Now, The International Center for Economic Cooperation of Yossi Beilin, the ISM, Adalah, and the New Israel Fund.   Since 2005, Bedein has also served as Director of the Center for Near East Policy Research.   A focus of the center's investigations is The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In that context, Bedein authored Roadblock to Peace: How the UN Perpetuates the Arab-Israeli Conflict - UNRWA Policies Reconsidered, which caps Bedein's 28 years of investigations of UNRWA. The Center for Near East Policy Research has been instrumental in reaching elected officials, decision makers and journalists, commissioning studies, reports, news stories and films. In 2009, the center began decided to produce short movies, in addition to monographs, to film every aspect of UNRWA education in a clear and cogent fashion.   The center has so far produced seven short documentary pieces n UNRWA which have received international acclaim and recognition, showing how which UNRWA promotes anti-Semitism and incitement to violence in their education'   In sum, Bedein has pioneered The UNRWA Reform Initiative, a strategy which calls for donor nations to insist on reasonable reforms of UNRWA. Bedein and his team of experts provide timely briefings to members to legislative bodies world wide, bringing the results of his investigations to donor nations, while demanding reforms based on transparency, refugee resettlement and the demand that terrorists be removed from the UNRWA schools and UNRWA payroll.   Bedein's work can be found at: and A new site,, will be launched very soon.