An Arab woman, a suspected terrorist, bedecked in a keffiyeh headscarf, is apprehended and taken to an interrogation room. Two uniformed men enter the room. The terrorist woman looks frightened. They start interrogating her. She pleads for them to let her go. They agree on condition that she has sex with both of them.
Such methods wouldn't be sanctioned by the Shin Bet, but the domestic security agency was not consulted in this case, because this is the plot-line of a real, made-in-Israel porn movie.
The production level is appalling, the lighting is terrible, the filming is bad. You can see the microphone and Boomstick in the frame and the director's off-screen instructions are audible. It looks like the actors arrived on set by chance or, more likely, by mistake. Despite absurd story-lines and the dreadful quality, it turns out that Israelis love made-in-Israel porn. They don't just want to see beautiful naked people having sex. They want to hear them speaking in Hebrew.
Dana Mor, an Israeli online porn actress, says emotions are just as important as stimulation when it comes to porn. "Women believe that sex is all men think about, but it's their feelings that work first. "They lack communication with a woman. They don't just want to see her naked, they also want to talk to her. That's why I only target Israeli audiences."
Twenty-six-year-old Dana was born in Israel, grew up in Tel Aviv, served in the IDF and even studied computer science. "At some stage, I realized that my options were either being a secretary or making coffee for my boss. I like producing content, I want to express myself, be creative, break the rules, get a message across. I've leant that when I'm provocative, people hear me."
Initially, Dana opened a profile on Pornhub, the largest American website for sharing pornographic material, where she also targeted Israeli audiences. "According to the site's rating, based on followers, likes and revenue, I was Israel's most successful porn actress." A year-and-a-half ago, she opened an OnlyFans account, where for a fee she shares sexual content, including video clips of her having sex with her partner. For a further fee, she offers personalized private shows.
Mor declines to reveal how much money she makes online, but it's not a small amount. "I've bought a big villa with a pool. Girls doing well can make up to 250,000 NIS ($80K) a month."
She emphasizes that she wasn't motivated to enter the sex industry by any shortage of money. "Where I came from, there was plenty of money. I didn't come from a rough background. I'm a software programmer. I don't do drugs. I don't drink. I'm a normative person. My friends and family support what I do. Some people think I’m shallow, but I'm a very strong person.
"I'm an Israeli porn actress in every sense of the word. I'm making new porn. There was a time when girls had to plead with producers to get them in, having to sleep with lots of strange men to get ahead. Now, any girl can produce her own videos. Girls can rent out production studios, buy professional cameras and just film it. Girls can decide whom they want to have sex with, without being pushed into sleeping with men they don't know."
It may sound simple, but it isn't. The Internet, especially social media, has made porn consumption easier than ordering a pizza. The COVID pandemic carried with it an economic one, and many women found themselves out of work, with no income, locked up at home for hours on end, so making a quick buck became very tempting. As a result, many women opened up their own businesses and turned on the cameras. Filming yourself at home is much safer than going out and becoming a prostitute. It's this very accessibility, however, that has placed such opportunities within reach of more and more women.
Mor is part of a close-knit community of women in porn. "I see girls who get into it very impulsively, without understanding its implications. They say 'I'll do it just for a short while, for the money.' I see single mothers, or young girls, who suddenly see easy money. Very few do it because it's fun for them. It mainly comes from some kind of distress. Then they start taking drugs to blur their feelings and from there, it only gets worse. Some girls who start out on OnlyFans, move onto real-life meet-ups with clients, and from there onto very bad stuff."
The problem in Israel is that it's a small country, so, although it's illegal, it's not very hard for a person to find out your true identity and then humiliate, harm or harass you and your family. We've had a lot of criminals distributing our materials, so coming into the industry, you need to take all of this into account. You need to be very strong. If you're not, you should go clean houses."
The Israeli porn industry is almost like a kibbutz. Everything is underground and on a small scale. Nearly everyone knows everyone. Does this Israeli familiarity make Israeli-made porn more user-friendly? Has the advent of content-sharing platforms rebalanced the power structure between men and women in the industry? Is this just another version of pimping? Does Israeli law enforcement protect actresses, or are they turning a blind eye to a damaging and exploitative industry?
Has the MeToo (or #MeToo) movement, with its amplified awareness of women's rights and the growth of feminist porn, called attention to the problems? Or, like anywhere where's there's money and sex, you'll get violence and exploitation?
We assessed the Israeli porn industry from all angles. More accurately, we assessed the straight porn industry (the gay porn industry is a completely separate entity), and our findings weren't sexy.
Revenge and Punishment
In the summer of 2021, the local porn industry was rocked by an article published in Hamakom Hachi Namuch BeGehenom ("The Hottest Place in Hell") describing a porn video produced by retired basketball player, Gili Mossinson. The film shows a woman, described as mentally unwell, performing oral sex on dozens of men. Mossinson responded by presenting the contract signed by the woman, claiming that the acts were fully consensual and that the woman even enjoyed it.
The question of women's choice or consent is extremely important. Social welfare organizations aim to help women get out of the porn's viscous cycle. This is viewed by some, as disrespectful and patronizing to women and their capacity of making the choice to enjoy sex. The State Attorney's Office admit that law enforcement does not address illegal activities in the industry and Israel's police declined to be interviewed for this article.
Director the Cyber Unit at the State Attorney's Office Haim Wismonsky says that publishing and distributing "regular pornography," featuring adult actors is fully permissible. "The limitations in place pertain to broadcasting and are not criminal regulations. The law further requires that internet providers offer customers free service to block undesired materials. If you like, you can get 'kosher' internet.
"The aspects in porn which are illegal, pertain to porn which includes minors below the age of 18. Israel's age of consent in 16, but the legal age for filming and broadcasting individuals having sex is 18. Once you go under the age of 16, it's a much more serious offence - having sex with a minor."
In 2014, the Knesset passed an amendment to the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law, nicknamed the "Videos Law." The amendment stipulates that "posting, filming a film or recording of a person, focusing on their sexuality, under circumstances that distribution can humiliate or demean them, or without their consent" is considered sexual harassment. The prohibition of publishing and distributing on social media also applies to those passing on the content even it they receive it form a third party. The maximum sentencing for such an offence is five years imprisonment.
Last April, Haifa Magistrates Court sentenced Ronen Sheikh, a former Haifa Municipality employee convicted of distributing on Telegram thousands of sexual pictures and videos of 187 women without their consent, to a four-year custodial sentence. This is an Israeli court's most severe sentence to date for offences under the Videos Law.
Another punishable offence is what is the "sub-genre" of the so-called revenge porn. "After a couple break up, the man distributes intimate pictures that his former partner had shared with him during the relationship. These pictures are then repeatedly re-shared, often linked to the woman's Instagram account, so everyone now knows that this is an Israeli 'girl-next-door' rather than a 'professional' porn actress," says Wismonsky.
"We should also mention the Penal Code clause 214a, forbidding 'publishing and displaying abominations.'" Wismonsky says classifying "abominations" is difficult. He says the United States distinguishes between pornography and obscenity. The latter isn't just any kind of pornography, but rather what the general public would be consider demeaning. "The problem is that this has no precise legal definition."
The law also forbids the Solicitation of Prostitution, commonly known as pimping, this refers to profiting from a woman having sex with a man. When it comes to pornography, however, it's documented. Does turning on the camera make it legal?
"A porn film director may well be soliciting to prostitution, but I've never heard of a case in Israel which treated an individual paying a porn actress as a pimp. Porn consumption doesn't seem to be classified under the law prohibiting the consumption of prostitution. Neither, apparently, is distributing material considered an "abomination" when it involves adults rather than minors. I recall a case, where the accused who had distributed horrific films involving animals, was handed a four-and-a-half-year custodial sentence"
Wismonsky points out that cyberspace has permeated into prostitution, with a law enforcement system equipped with legal tools and training which haven't been adapted to address current circumstances. Online prostitution - where a man, for his sexual own sexual gratification, pays a young woman to perform sexual acts on herself, but he never actually touches the woman - has evoked legal difficulties within the confounds of the law as it presently stands.
He is is adamant, however, that online prostitution must be made illegal. "Physical contact between the consumer and the person providing services, or even their physical proximity, is no longer applicable in "the Age of the Internet". Exploitation and trafficking of women can take place over live-cams, when the person providing services carries sexual acts touching their own body, as the consumer watches online. Ultimately, as a society, we should aim to protect unfortunate women and girls, and sometimes young men, who have fallen into prostitution."
Exploitation of Healthy Sexuality?
"Israeli porn is anything but a turn-on," says Heidad Litman, a former video editor of pornographic content and positive sexuality instructor. "It's overseas wannabe, but it's very cheap. In cinematic terms, it's an abysmal product. Movies have awful names like "Give her a blo-blo." The women are usually masked. The men don't mind if they're recognized. The people in the films don't seem to be mentally healthy. It doesn’t look like they're doing it from a good place."
How did you get to editing porn?
"I've always been interested in human sexuality. I've researched the subject. When I was 18, I visited the Sex Museum in Amsterdam. While studying design, I volunteered at Open Door (an NGO focusing on healthy sexuality education). I started editing through someone I knew. I see watching porn as research."
Isn't there a contradiction between porn and healthy sexuality?
"True, most porn today is very misogynistic. It is, however, today's sex education. In the old days, people had to hide magazines under their beds or rent videos from video rental shops and hide them too. Now, it's in every home and the content's becoming more and more extreme. Porn is society's looking glass. That's why feminist porn came about."
To fully appreciate where feminist porn comes from, we need to go back to the feminist sex wars of the 1980s, whose battles are still raging. In the 1980s, the feminist movement was divided over questions regarding sexuality such as BDSM (Bondage, Dominance, Sadism and Masochism) and pornography. The questions focused on the very choice to become involved in these things, their legitimacy and their connection to women's liberation.
In one corner sat the anti-pornography camp, headed by Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon, who viewed pornography as sexual discrimination against women and a way of making them weaker. The duo base much of their hypothesis on the case of Linda Lovelace, an American porn actress, whose 1972 breakthrough movie, "Deepthroat", is cited as the prototype of modern pornography. In the early 1980s, Lovelace revealed that she had suffered abuse in the porn industry and claimed that anyone watching "Deepthroat" is effectively watching her being raped. She joined the movement against pornography and became an avid spokesperson against the industry.
From the opposite corner sprung the sex-positive movement. Viewing porn and fetishism such as BDSM as healthy expressions of women's sexuality and sexual freedom, the sex-positive movement believes that they should play a role in advancing women in society.
Social worker Sivan Lotem researches sexuality and pornography at the Rotem Multidisciplinary Center for Sex Therapy, and says the battle between the two camps is complex.
"According to the anti-porn camp, there's the element of regret. Maybe at the age of 18 or 20, participating in a low-budget porn movie is a choice taken. They claim that lots of women, when they're young, do say that they made a choice, but that later in life they had been damaged by the experience. The difference between porn and prostitution, is that women can put prostitution behind them and move on. Porn, on the other hand, can always serve as 'evidence against you.' As every sexual act within prostitution is should be considered rape, the act of rape takes place once, but in porn, when it's on film it actually recurs repeatedly," she says.
"The sex-positive movement believes the problem isn't that porn exists, but rather that it's created by men and presents women and sexual objects rather than subjects. Women don't only supply, they also consume sex. Feminist porn, conversely, is made by women. They say that if porn serves as tool to structure society, only reinforcing the power balance between men and women, let's take this tool and write reality ourselves. Erica Lust, a leading feminist porn creator describes it as 'dirty porn with clean values.'"
Can a film in which a woman performs oral sex on dozens of men be considered feminist porn?
"I wouldn't judge such a film, but not everything that people call feminist porn really is. There's even a rubric to that effect on porn sites. It's misleading. To understand what I'm watching, I'll look for the power balance, whether one side is weak and has less ability to consent or refuse. We have to question the weaker side's level of self-awareness, their ability to understand what they really want and to what extent, their mind has become blurred. It's claimed that some women have a rape fantasy, but fantasy and reality aren't the same. Research has proven a great discrepancy between what we fantasize and what we want happen in reality.
"Even when we do fulfil a fantasy, it must have rules. Here, we have much to learn from BDSM with its clear-cut rules about consent, including the use of codewords signaling when a partner should stop. In recent years, following the MeToo revolution, and following years of harm caused to actors, Hollywood movie sets featuring crude intimate scenes or scenes depicting rape, have introduced a new staff member known as an 'intimacy instructor,' porn productions should also have such a person on set."
Porn, however, is a far cry from Hollywood and MeToo. Since it's legal and no social welfare group deals specifically with the porn industry, it's difficult to talk about data. Various people we interviewed explained that content-sharing websites and porn film producers lock women into draconian contracts. The women are generally weak, coming from distressed backgrounds or are perpetuating former abuse. Lots of the women on these platforms also make money from prostitution. Drugs and alcohol, usually to mask feelings during sex, are ever present. And still, almost three quarters of the population, including minors, watch porn.
Public Defense Attorney Shira Keidar, who represents prostitution workers, says that there's a clear connection between pornography and prostitution. "I'm not saying that consuming porn is the same as paying for prostitution, but they're both on the exploitation spectrum."
What should the law do differently?
"We need to create ethical porn. I know that overseas, there have been attempts to advance regulation in porn. There are websites that stipulate that the individuals appearing on their platforms are not being exploited, but it's hard to tell. Maybe it's convenient for some people to believe that. It's complicated. The industry can't be eradicated, but we can encourage conversation at all levels of the community. Increased conversation among normative sections of society is what will change awareness of exploitative and dangerous practices, without taking a paternalistic approach to women in porn.
Twenty-seven-year-old Gal Emet, who managed to leave prostitution, is trying to amplify voices who call out the industry for its exploitive tactics. "Where there's money and there's sex, there's exploitation! Porn is on the sexual abuse spectrum. In Israel, because it's a small place, there isn't really an 'industry'. Porn in Israel is very much underground, in the shadows. There are porn actors and low budget productions, but the social media era has somewhat changed the picture. COVID, however, has caused the greatest change."
Emet is concerned for women in porn. "In this industry, there are 'leeches,' who will show up anywhere the ex workers gather. During lockdown, a woman we knew had a breakdown. We went to visit her in hospital. We got there and we found one of these leeches hovering over her bed. A lot of women who film themselves doing porn are emotionally detached and the vultures start circling. Instead of fighting porn, we need to treat it. Unlike other branches of prostitution, it can be done right."
"Porn is legal. Although it's not regulated, it's considered totally legal. I can give you a receipt for participating in a film. Just like in journalism there are ethical standards, there need to be those in porn too. Firstly, participants must be required to be checked for STDs, and mental health issues. Porn film-sets must also have 'intimacy advisors' safeguarding participants' health and safety. Meaningful conversations must be conducted with the participants, explaining the dangers and ramifications, ensuring that they are aware of all implications. Drugs and alcohol must remain at the door. We need to create a space where we can work and create. If only they tried, they could make porn safe."