Bill Legalizing Prostitution Advances Despite Opposition

A bill to legalize prostitution has moved forward a notch amid strong opposition from Orthodox members of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s government.

On Wednesday, the Israeli parliament passed a preliminary reading of legislation giving prostitutes legal protection and allowing them to move their trade indoors from the streets.

The vote was 26-15, with most of the 120-member Knesset absent. There were two abstentions.

Opposition by Shas and other haredi, or fervently Orthodox, parties in the opposition will pose hurdles for the measure as it moves to committee.

At the same time, the timing of the private member’s bill has been attributed to coalition politics.

The measure was pushed forward by Avraham Poraz of the left-wing Meretz bloc as a way of signaling party unhappiness over what it says is Rabin’s failure to grant a promised Cabinet post to Yossi Sarid, according to the newspaper Hadashot.

Justice Minister David Libai told the parliament he supports the bill. But he said it does not enjoy the endorsement of the Cabinet on the whole, because of opposition by the interior minister, Arye Deri, who is a leader of Shas.

A Shas spokesman, Deputy Minister Rafael Pinhasi, said the bill threatens the government’s stability, as it has been put forward in the absence of approval from the coalition executive.

Religious party speakers said the bill would create an increase in prostitution, prompting Poraz to replay that failure to pass it would help spread AIDS.

Agreeing, Yoram Lass of Labor objected to the bill’s failure to require prostitutes to provide their clients with condoms. Condoms are considered the most effective means of preventing the transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, during sexual intercourse.

The AIDS issue raised tempers at another parliamentary forum.

Rabbi Yosef Ba-Gad of the far-right Moledet party, stormed out of a meeting of the Knesset’s Education Committee on Tuesday after a condom dispenser was placed on display to mark World AIDS Day.

The display was defended by Labor’s Avraham Burg as important to committee discussion on a proposal to introduce the dispensers in schools.

Ba-Gad said that it was outrageous for the “impure” machine to have been brought into the committee room. The only way to combat the spread of AIDS, he said, is to educate youngsters in correct family values.

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