The right to life and freedom are the two most fundamental rights. However, at the beginning of the 21st century in broad sectors of the world, there is no freedom, no equality, no life and no liberty. Perhaps the cruelest phenomenon, the one that shows just how far people are from realizing these ideals, is human trafficking.

 PM Netanyahu: The struggle against human trafficking


PM Benjamin Netanyahu (Reuters archive photo)

PM Netanyahu spoke at the ceremony honoring those who participated in the struggle against human trafficking.
[Translated from Hebrew]

I wish to congratulate this year’s honorees, who truly deserve the praise – congratulations to you and your families who help you in your work. You are truly a shining example of devotion to this supreme humane, moral, legal and social mission. I know how much you invest, how productive you are and how hard you try and your work will be recognized, including through the awards given today. They are to show our esteem and to encourage you and others to continue this fight.

Nineteen years ago, the Knesset passed the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. This law was not only directed at men, it was also directed at women. In other words, it was directed at all people, irrespective of religion, race and sex – to realize all rights, first and foremost the right to life and freedom.

These are the two most fundamental rights. However, to our great regret as the President rightly said, in the 21st century, even though there was a tremendous breakthrough in ideas of liberty, freedom and equality in the 17th century and they gathered speed in the 18th century and broke through in the 19th century and should have theoretically been fully realized in the 20th century, here we are at the beginning of the 21st century, and in broad sectors of the world, there is no freedom, no equality, no life and no liberty. These are things that are not obvious.

Perhaps the cruelest phenomenon, the one that shows just how far people are from realizing these ideals, is human trafficking. It is brutal in that it involves taking boys, girls and women from small villages and trafficking in them. Often they are killed along the way, and if they are not killed, they are forced into slavery and prostitution.

I am sorry to say that this is dependent on movement: it is easier to catch them when they are in movement. They are like predators that lie in wait for migrants, and use the migration to pounce on a wandering deer or cub. Movement provides the traffickers with an opportunity, and such movement also takes place in the State of Israel, which serves as a magnet for Africa, among other places. However, first and foremost it draws people from Africa – those same illegal infiltrators that we are dealing with now. One of the side effects of illegal infiltration is an entire industry of trafficking in men, and as I said, in women, that is growing larger. These people have no rights. The victims of human trafficking have no dreams, they have no ambitions, they are at the mercy of heartless and immoral people.

Therefore, we are working to close off the trafficking channel. Yesterday the Government passed an important resolution to complete the fence – this is one method – from Kerem Shalom to Eilat. There are other methods. I want to be clear that erecting the fence, or completing it, will also help block these channels being used for human trafficking, although that is no guarantee of freedom. A fence cannot guarantee freedom, especially not when there is still a long journey on the other side of the fence. However, it is not a guarantee on our side of the fence either because we need to change our attitude not towards human trafficking, but towards women.

In the State of Israel, there are still women who suffer mental and physical violence just because they are women. Many people suffer mental and physical violence, but there is a certain section of the population that harasses women because they are women, and we must fight this vigorously. Anyone who infringes on the rights of women or their freedom, or who works to discriminate against women, works against the principles and ideals of the State of Israel.

The path to realizing the principles of equality and freedom begins at home and certainly continues at school. School can influence the home as well. It continues through legislation and enforcement, and ends in punishing violators, headed by human traffickers. We are acting on all these channels, in all these sectors, but there is still much work to be done, both by voluntary organizations and by citizens who care.

I would like to take this opportunity to raise another subject – not trafficking in women and it is not directly connected to the subject of our discussion. However, the President rightly brought it up because it has recently been the subject of public discourse. I refer to the phenomenon of the exclusion of women in the public sphere. First let me clarify – this is a trend that is limited in scope and does not reflect on the entire population and not even the entire ultra-orthodox population. However, it does exist. I would like to state unequivocally: I strenuously object to the exclusion of women.

It is true that there is a question of public space and private space. By the way, even in the private space, people have basic human rights, but that is a separate question. In the State of Israel, there is no room to exclude anyone, certainly not half the population, men or women. The place of women in the public space must be guaranteed and equal. I think the phenomenon of excluding women not only contradicts the democratic principles we recognize and hold so dear, but it also contradicts Jewish tradition. Jewish tradition always held: "Its ways are ways of pleasantness", and that has been the way of Judaism for generations. It is true that we have a complex society and it demands agreement and sensitivity, but it also demands following the law and ensuring the dignity of women and of people.

I believe our society is strong enough and I believe our democracy is strong. I hear talk of the danger of democracy. That is part of our public discourse, but also of the strength of our democracy. Laws are introduced, laws fall; there is dialogue, there is evolution, there are disagreements and in the end, there is agreement. One agreement must be: our democracy is for every person, Jews and non-Jews, new immigrants and veterans, every citizen – every citizen – every man and every woman. These are our principles and we will maintain them.

Thank you.