Israeli police, in conjunction with the Tel Aviv District Prosecutor’s Office and Tax Authority, served the Baby Dolls, GoGo Girls and Shendu strip clubs with closure orders on Monday as a part of an administrative enforcement of a controversial law forbidding sex work in the country.
The order demands the clubs be closed for 30 days as authorities investigate the businesses, according to Haaretz. While sex work has long been illegal in Israel, police’s shuttering of the trio of clubs comes as an enforcement of new laws put into place in April 2019 which classify lap dancing as a form of sex work and made the buying of such dances a criminal offense.
According to the 2018 push from then-Israeli State Attorney Shai Nitzan, lap dances were described as “a sexual act of physical contact intended to please” and, in some cases, “constitutes prostitution.”
A law enforcement source told Haaretz that the owners of the aforementioned clubs were issued a warning months ago to change their policies if they wanted to avoid being shut down. The source also revealed that police have been conducting covert investigations of the clubs and raided the businesses on February 5, issuing restraining orders against the owners as they questioned the workers. It’s said that most of the women questioned were Eastern European nationals.
Pole dancing, however, is still allowed - depending on one’s distance from the patron.
The head of the Israeli Association of Strippers, identified only as “Michelle,” told local news station Channel 12 that the new laws require dancers to keep a 20-centimeter distance from clubgoers. She went on to slam feminist groups over their lack of support following the administrative orders.
“I made an effort to meet Feminist activists and understand their point of view,” she said, as reported by the Jerusalem Post. “I think the fact none of them agreed to be here on the show and speak with me speaks volumes.”
“I think my phone must be broken,” Michelle added, “because nobody from the Feminist NGOs called me to offer help [to pay the bills] after my club was closed down.”
Many dancers, who are now out of work, assembled outside of the GoGo Girls strip club to protest its closure.
"A man who never met us, doesn't know us or about our lives, decided what we can and can not do with our body,” the Israeli Association of Strippers said in a statement to the Jerusalem Post, referring to the state attorney. "Nobody spent a moment of thought on what are we going to do [to get by] tomorrow.”
Attorney Nitzan Kahane, director of the Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution, however, argued that the closings were necessary in order to prevent the further exploitation of women in Israel.
“This is a necessary step, after years in which brave women spoke of the tremendous damage caused to them as a result of exploitation in strip clubs,” she told Hebrew-language news site Ynet, reported the Times of Israel.
Likewise, Tzipi Brand, deputy mayor of Tel Aviv, contended that the “world of stripping, as it currently operates, has no room” in the city, according to the Jerusalem Post. The city official went on to pledge that she and others will “work to rehabilitate these women and offer them help in every way possible.”