Agam, a strip club dancer at the former Pussycat strip club in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv
Agam, a strip club dancer at the former Pussycat strip club in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv
Photo: AFP
Two women walk past the closed Gogo Girls strip club in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv on March 5, 2020

Strip clubs in Israel's 'Sin City' turn into social activism hub

Tel Aviv's Pussycat strip club used to be a magnet for hedonists; now, the eye-catching building is home to programs that raises awareness about sexual exploitation, while former 'private lounge' is occupied by Eritrean refugees

AFP |
Published: 05.03.20 , 11:03
Tel Aviv's Pussycat used to bill itself as the premier strip club in the Middle East, allegedly popular among Israeli TV stars and military brass for its notorious private lounge.
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  • Before its closure last year, the Pussycat was a magnet for hedonists in the Mediterranean commercial hub sometimes dubbed Israel's "Sin City" and known for beachside cocktails and hipster bars.
    Two women walk past the closed Gogo Girls strip club in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv on March 5, 2020 Two women walk past the closed Gogo Girls strip club in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv on March 5, 2020
    Two women walk past the closed Gogo Girls strip club in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv on March 5, 2020
    (Photo: AFP)
    Now, the eye-catching round mirrored building near the beach that hosted the club since it was founded in 2000 has been converted into a centre for social activism, opening its doors to community programs.
    The club's demise was partly sealed by legal changes cracking down on alleged prostitution, developments which forced the closure of all of Tel Aviv's strip joints.
    That was a victory for some anti-prostitution campaigners, while others insisted that properly managed strip clubs allowed women to make good money in a safe environment.
    An Israeli mother pushing her baby stroller leaves the premises of the former Pussycat strip clubAn Israeli mother pushing her baby stroller leaves the premises of the former Pussycat strip club
    An Israeli mother pushing her baby stroller leaves the premises of the former Pussycat strip club
    (Photo: AFP)
    The transformation of the Pussycat was the work of activist Yakir Segev, a former member of Jerusalem's city council and business executive now devoted to social causes.
    The Pussycat, which faced a series of legal challenges over alleged prostitution, "couldn't be fixed," said Segev.
    When a real estate company bought the site that hosted the Pussycat last year, Segev convinced the firm to allow the space to be converted at least temporarily into a hub for social activism.
    "They gave up millions of shekels every year in order to get the club out and us in," Segev said, calling the decision "truly admirable".
    Segev now offers audio tours of the site telling the club's story, which he said raises awareness about sexual exploitation.
    During a tour in February, before Israel went into coronavirus lockdown, an area once inhabited by pole dancers hosted a support group for young mothers working in high-tech, as their babies were parked nearby.
    Israeli women are pictured at the premises of the former Pussycat strip clubIsraeli women are pictured at the premises of the former Pussycat strip club
    Israeli women are pictured at the premises of the former Pussycat strip club
    (Photo: AFP)
    And right next to what was the "private lounge", Eritrean refugees were learning the basics of Israeli cuisine.
    For strip club aficionados, the Pussycat had several classic features: pleather chairs, small booths for lap dances and a mirrored cloakroom.
    VIPs who wanted to avoid being spotted could use a discreet staircase connecting a basement parking lot straight to the private lounge.
    The lounge "welcomed TV stars and army generals", according to Segev's audio tour.
    Activists insist the lounge was nothing but a brothel.
    Ayelet Dayan of Israel's task force against human trafficking, said private lounges at Tel Aviv clubs were all venues for illegal prostitution.
    When women "took the key for the private room, the receptionist would give them a condom", she said. "It was the same story in all the clubs."
    The demise of Tel Aviv's strip clubs was accelerated in 2018 when Israel's parliament, the Knesset, passed a law banning brothels.
    But the final straw came in April last year when the public prosecutor issued a directive to clamp down on lap dances, arguing they could in some cases be viewed as prostitution.
    A former strip club employee, who requested anonymity, said lap dances were an essential part of a stripper's income, offering them a chance to earn substantial tips.
    A woman makes her way through the VIP underground corridor at the premises of the former Pussycat strip clubA woman makes her way through the VIP underground corridor at the premises of the former Pussycat strip club
    A woman makes her way through the VIP underground corridor at the premises of the former Pussycat strip club
    (Photo: AFP)
    "If there is no private room, the girls will not dance on the stage. The stage was the business card for the private room," she said.
    After the Pussycat closed, several other Tel Aviv clubs followed suit.
    Some sought permits to reopen, vowing to prohibit lap dances and private rooms, but those plans have been placed on hold by the pandemic.
    That was a victory for activists like Segev, who argued the Pussycat's transformation into a venue for social change "gives people a lot of hope".
    "We are not naive to think that those phenomenon (of prostitution and sexual exploitation) are going to disappear from the face of the Earth," he said.
    "We didn't close all the strip clubs in Israel and prostitution still exists," he said.
    But converting a symbol like the Pussycat into an NGO hub could be a catalyst for broader social change.
    Not everyone, however, thinks Segev's achievement was positive.
    Agam, a dancer with jet black hair who asked that her last name be withheld, was among a group of women who joined a protest in February against the club closures.
    Agam, a strip club dancer at the former Pussycat strip club in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv Agam, a strip club dancer at the former Pussycat strip club in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv
    Agam, a strip club dancer at the former Pussycat strip club in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv
    (Photo: AFP)
    Some wore cat masks at the demonstration in Tel Aviv to demand the bars reopen.
    "We are all adults," said Agam. "We make our own decisions... A girl can leave (work at a club) whenever she wants."
    Agam insisted she would rather work in a club with rules and staff who provide protection rather than dance for men at private homes "without any control on who we meet".



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