Date of this Version
Concern over human trafficking in Israel emerged in the late 1990s, following the massive wave of immigration from Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union. Within less than a decade, a full policy-making cycle was completed: the problem was framed by the media and NGOs; public awareness increased; policy prescriptions were proposed, adopted, and implemented; and finally, government officials announced that the problem has been successfully dealt with. Since then public interest in the issue dramatically decreased. Of particular interest is the role of the United States government in this process. While trafficking was first recognized as a problem in Israel by local non-governmental organizations, the Israeli government acted on the issue only as a result of pressure produced by the foreign policy of the United States. Specifically, the strongest tool available to local groups was the publication of the first Trafficking in Persons Report by the U.S. Department of State in 2001. This Report placed Israel with the group of countries who fail to make significant efforts to combat human trafficking (“tier 3”), threatened to cut down financial aid, and prompted the Israeli government into action. Through interviews with policymakers and local NGO leaders, this study examines the development of the Israeli anti-trafficking policy from its inception, and its consequences, both intended and unintended. The interviews shed light on the motivations behind the policy, and on the way it was influenced by the framing of the problem by different actors. The data further demonstrate the potential of strong U.S. pressure to effect social change, but also its limits in the face of local political discourse.