Tel Aviv battles against strip clubs

New regulations adopted by the Tel Aviv municipality would enable it to ban new striptease clubs in the city and render such openings a criminal offense.

al-monitor A youth walks past the closed Gogo Girls strip club in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 5, 2020. Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images.

Sep 21, 2020

Tel Aviv’s Planning and Construction Committee approved Sept. 16 a new policy, turning permits for new strip clubs into an almost impossible mission. According to the new instructions, anyone wishing to open such a club would need a special authorization from the planning committee. Each request is then discussed separately. More so, opening a strip club without the proper permit would be considered a criminal offense.

The new regulations offer the committee grounds for refusal of changing designated land use in such cases. In practical terms this means a long and complicated process that is unlikely to end up with a permit.

The decision to adopt the new regulations was taken during a Zoom meeting. Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Tzipi Brand was quoted as saying at the meeting that "all such requests made for a business permit would automatically be refused. The municipality will eradicate this phenomenon. For us, these clubs objectivize and humiliate women. It is contrary to the values of the city. Parallel to this decision, the municipality will put in place a rehabilitation and employment program for the women who would lose their jobs as a result of this."

Women's Spirit (Ruach Nashit) works to promote the economic independence of female survivors of violence in Israel. It strives for social change from a feminist perspective and commitment to social and gender justice. The group hails the decision taken by the municipality. Its CEO Tamar Schwartz told Al-Monitor, "We support every measure that limits the operation of strip clubs, and I wish we could obliterate this phenomenon all together. These clubs are another space of oppression; they objectivize women, so that women are considered as objects and not as a whole person with feelings. These are the last remnants of patriarchy. In a world of equality there is no room for that."

The issue of rehabilitation of women working in striptease clubs is crucial. Some of these women participated in the committee’s Zoom meeting, expressing their frustration. For them, closing down the clubs would mean unemployment and poverty. Most of these women have no formation, no other options and no family to lean on.

Eytan Halon, international press head at the Tel Aviv municipality, told Al-Monitor about one rehabilitation program that has already been launched, to help women who were driven by life's difficulties into the prostitution and sex industry. "The Sal’it program offers these women someone to talk to, a hostel and a place to sleep and stay. It also helps them get what they are entitled to from the social security and other government bodies. It assists them with rent, with paying off their debts, looking for jobs and preparing for the labor market by taking part in professional courses, receiving study stipends, and more. We do all that in order to help these women step outside of the cycle they are trapped in — toward a life in the community."

The Sal’it program is certainly a good start, but the Tel Aviv municipality recognizes that more efforts must be made. Special financial aid has been put in place to help women in difficult circumstances during the coronavirus pandemic, and all parties involved are now busy thinking of other, more comprehensive solutions.

Israel’s legislation against prostitution and strip clubs has been increasingly reinforced in the past few years. About two years ago, the state prosecutor’s office issued new instructions, stating that lap dances with customers at strip clubs would be considered under certain circumstances as a criminal offense. In other words, if there was intimate contact, it could be considered a form of prostitution. About a year and a half ago, the Knesset adopted a legislation banning the purchasing of sex. In July, this landmark law against consumption of prostitution went into effect.

With these legal tools in place, the Tel Aviv municipality and police have strengthened their measures against strip clubs, closing many of them for good. According to police assessments, there are still at least five striptease clubs operating in Tel Aviv without a specific permit. The new committee’s decision will prevent the opening of new ones.

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