Anti-Trafficking in Israel, Neo-Abolitionist Feminists, Markets, Borders, and the State

Governance Feminism: An Introduction, Forthcoming

53 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2018

See all articles by Hila Shamir

Hila Shamir

Tel Aviv University - Buchmann Faculty of Law

Date Written: March 19, 2018


The chapter offers a close study of one seemingly successful governance feminist (GF) project – an anti-trafficking campaign in Israel – and offers tools to evaluate the costs and benefits of the strategies Gfeminists used in their campaign. The chapter traces the transformation of sex trafficking in Israel from an ignored topic in the early 1990’s to an important policy and legislative arena in the early 2000’s, leading to its near complete eradication by approximately 2008. This significant change in legislation, institutions, funding priorities, and state perception and approach to identified victims of trafficking was the result of intense lobbying and fruitful collaboration between Israeli Gfeminists in civil society, parliament, government and state bureaucracies, and the Israeli state, most notably the police, the administration of border crossing, the prosecution and the courts. It was also the result of US pressures on Israel, through the threat of financial sanctions embedded in the Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, including the Acts mandate of international ranking of countries by tiers according to their compliance with anti-trafficking minimum standards set in the Act. The chapter focuses on the technologies of GF in the Israeli context, enriching our vocabularies of feminist paths to governmental and bureaucratic power. The case study suggests that Israeli Gfeminist utilization of their position, first as experts and knowledge bearers, and consultants, and later as the ones representing the voice of victims, turned out to be particularly effective, especially when combined with their strategic use of the existing pressures exerted in the international arena – mostly US efforts. The combination of the expertise they acquired, their strategic positioning within the state apparatus, and the legitimacy and (some) funding the enjoyed due to US commitment to the subject, all channeled into an effective pathway to governance. The chapter finds that while GF efforts focused on promoting the human rights of victims, their most successful path was the collaborating with the security state and the police to change enforcement priorities, prosecutorial practices and institutional approaches to prostitution in general, and the prostitution of non-Israeli women in particular. The chapter finds that while the GF anti-trafficking campaign in Israel can be seen as a success in some sense – namely due to the near eradication of the phenomenon – it also came a cost. Cost to the thousands of deported and repatriated women, cost to the rehabilitated women in shelters who received great psychological and therapeutic attention but little socio-economic assistance, and cost to Israeli sex workers who now endure greater police harassment and violence. It further came at a discursive cost strengthening Israel’s restrictive border policy, legitimating (at least partially) the construction of a long border between Israel and Egypt in the Sinai dessert, and strengthening the states’ neo-liberal turn. The case study flags the synergy between certain strains of Gfeminist activism and goals and the neo-liberal security state, highlighting the unintended but perhaps predictable costs in some GF strategies’, as well as explaining some GF failures, when the Gfeminist agenda challenged, rather than confirmed, neo-liberal belief in free markets and the state’s restrictive immigration policy.

Keywords: governance feminist, sex trafficking, legislation, change in legislation, funding priorities, lobbyinnd, state perception, identified victims, collaboration, threat of financial sanctions, Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, case study

JEL Classification: K31, J50, J51, J53, J83, J81

Suggested Citation

Shamir, Hila, Anti-Trafficking in Israel, Neo-Abolitionist Feminists, Markets, Borders, and the State (March 19, 2018). Governance Feminism: An Introduction, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

Hila Shamir (Contact Author)

Tel Aviv University - Buchmann Faculty of Law ( email )

Ramat Aviv
Tel Aviv 69978, IL
972-3-6408771 (Phone)


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