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The strip clubs in Israel: the struggle and the outlook for the future

Article: Luba Fine

In September 2020, about two months after the entry into force of the law prohibiting the consumption of prostitution, the Tel Aviv municipality made a dramatic announcement: the existing strip clubs will be closed, and the new clubs, if they ask to open, will not receive a license. Tel Aviv was the last city in Israel, where legal strip clubs operated. Therefore, the meaning of this announcement was supposedly the elimination of the strip clubs in the country. In 2021, the municipality reversed the decision and allowed the reopening of one club, Shando. This change illustrates the tipping point of the fight in the sex industry, when it comes to clubs.


In Israel there is and never has been a law prohibiting strip clubs as such. Such a law exists, as of today, in only one country: Iceland. Hence, the whole struggle in the strip industry was conducted here in indirect ways. Idit Shemesh Harel, a veteran abolitionist, recalls: "In the early 2000s, the clubs in Tel Aviv and Haifa flourished. Boria Salzman from the Tel Aviv Municipality initiated a discussion on the issue of eradicating trafficking in women. At that time, no one was talking about prostitution and stripping, but we turned to Alhanan Meshi,

The manager of the business licensing department in the municipality, so that he stops granting licenses to clubs. He refused. The clubs were registered as cabaret clubs, and operated with a license. 'If you want, go change the law,' said Meshi. They called him to go there and see what was going on with them, and he replied: Of course I was, and I also brought my son there.''


Later, Idit Shemesh Harel wrote letters to Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and other decision-makers on behalf of "Todeda", a non-profit that advocates against the sex industry. She said that within the context of the strip clubs there are back rooms that offer prostitution services for all kinds of things. Also dancing Help Dance is prostitution for everything, she explained. "I didn't rely on rumors, I was there. I entered the club with a friend, we paid NIS 80 and got a free drink. We've seen it all: men touching women everywhere, back rooms. I peeked into one of the rooms, it had a bed and a huge roll of tissues.  These were boom times, the clubs were mainstream and normative."


From the mid-2010s, the general fight in the sex industry progressed, and the status of the clubs also began to be undermined. In 2015, another large municipality, Haifa, started a fight against strip clubs. Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav did not wait for the law to change; He hired private investigators and was able to provide the police with evidence that the clubs offered prostitution services. As a result, the strip clubs in Haifa were closed after not receiving a license [1] . The activists from Tel Aviv realized that you have the tools to fight the clubs, and you don't have to wait for a specific law.


In 2016, due to the testimonies of the women who worked in strip clubs, police raids were carried out on the clubs in the Tel Aviv area. The police discovered the "private rooms", and the club owners were required to close them. After several attempts to deceive the authorities and disguise the rooms, they were permanently closed in 2017. In the same year, Judge Michal Agmon Gonen gave a precedent ruling: she banned the strip clubs in the Ramat Gan area, claiming that "these are practices of degrading the objectification of women and harming their dignity as human beings , that the entire law works to eradicate [...] objectification in general, and in nudity shows for sexual stimulation in particular, stems from the presentation of women as passive, who always responds to sex on demand, and attributing a sexual nature to the very objectification of women. The men who come to watch nudity for sexual stimulation, do so For their own sexual needs, they treat women instead as a tool to achieve a goal that is external to those women, as devoid of human existence and meaning in themselves. They do not see them as a goal in themselves and do not care about their well-being and happiness. In these shows, there is an identification between the objectification of women and sexual stimulation." Judge Agmon Gonen added that "there is an argument that the women appearing do not feel humiliated and perhaps on the contrary, they chose to do so of their own free will. To this the answer must be that when certain behaviors are not experienced as humiliating, but they violate human dignity, they must be prohibited as violating the basic values of society. In other words, it can be determined that a certain activity or behavior denigrates women and damages their dignity, even if they themselves do not see it that way [2] ".


In 2019, State Attorney Shai Nitzan issued an official directive, that consuming a lap dance in a strip club would be considered consuming prostitution. He has a caveat, that  watching a woman dance in a club without touching will not be considered prostitution or any criminal offense, but physical contact between a customer and a stripper will be defined as prostitution. It was also stated in the directive that it will be possible to prosecute club owners or their operators for pimping prostitution, possessing or renting a place for the purpose of prostitution. However, the strippers or junior workers will not be prosecuted [3] . The clubs continued to struggle for existence. Club owners in Tel Aviv, the last city that allowed them to operate legally, promised that any kind of dancing, including the "private", would take place without contact. After the promise, the business licenses for the strip clubs were recently renewed by the Tel Aviv municipality.   Nevertheless, in February 2020 the strip clubs were unexpectedly closed [4] . Normally, a decision of this kind is given for a period of thirty days, after which the clubs were expected to reopen. However, due to the outbreak of the Corona epidemic,


After the success of the campaign, which led to a significant reduction in the scope of trafficking in women from 2006 onwards, the activists and the politicians decided not to stop here, and to continue fighting for a ban on the consumption of prostitution. A law prohibiting the consumption of prostitution was enacted for the first time in Sweden in 1999. In 2008, Knesset member Zehava Galon placed on the table of the seventeenth Knesset a bill seeking to criminalize consumers of prostitution services. A decade later, the law was passed in a slightly more limited version. During the same decade, other, less controversial, attempts were made to restrict the sex industry. Among the laws enacted during this period were: the Phone Number Blocking Law for the Prevention of Offenses, which allows the blocking of phone numbers of places of prostitution (2018), and the Website Blocking Law (2017), which allows websites used for crime, including pimps, to be removed from the network.


Legislation limiting the activity of strip clubs as such has never been enacted in Israel, nor has an attempt been made to advance it. Therefore, when the clubs in the north of Israel were closed in 2015, it was because of unlicensed activity. In 2016, an intense fight against the strip clubs also began in the central region. At first, the fight was concentrated in the "back rooms", where prostitution services were provided by the strippers. The public, the police and the women's organizations have known about the rooms for a long time, and the issue has also been brought up many times in the media. In 2016, an order was given to close the rooms, and the business licenses of the strip clubs were conditioned on the fact that paid sex services would not be offered in the places.


In 2017, Judge Michal Agmon Gunen ruled in a precedent ruling that strip clubs should be closed in the city of Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, because a city building plan for the complex allows entertainment clubs to operate there, but strip shows are not considered "entertainment" because they involve "humiliation, objectification Women and harm to their dignity" [5] . In 2019, State Attorney Shai Nitzan determined that sexual dances (lap dances) in strip clubs would be considered prostitution. The owners of the clubs in Tel Aviv, the last stronghold of the striptease business, have pledged that every type of dance, including the "private", will be performed without contact [6] .


As of the time the article was written (May 2021), the strip clubs in Tel Aviv, with the exception of Shando, are closed. As for the future, there is much uncertainty.  The Tel Aviv municipality, in whose territory the clubs operate, does not yet have a consolidated policy against them and, as mentioned, there is also no law prohibiting their operation.  A large fortune of strip club owners is at stake, and it is clear that they will not give up easily. However, the anti-prostitution organizations have reason to be optimistic. Today, we are equipped with extensive legislation against the sex industry, with the support of media and politicians, with the order of the former state attorney, with overwhelming support within the feminist community and partial support among the general public.


The owners of the strip clubs have repeatedly committed crimes: when they operated under the license of a "cabaret club", when they promised to close "private rooms" and when they were forbidden to provide "lap dance" services. Do they deserve another chance? Even if you don't oppose stripping as a practice, these people deserve jail, not a license. Let's just hope that one day, the Israeli legislator will close the strip clubs, so that we don't depend forever on the enlightened position of the municipalities.







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