Checkout Time For Blaming Tourists

Checkout Time For Blaming Tourists

Associate Editor

The Israeli media consistently points out characteristics of the Jewish state that few American newspapers, let alone Jewish leaders, dare say.
For instance, according to a Yediot Achronot editorial (Oct. 23), in Israel ìanarchy is triumphant, boorishness and discourtesy are jubilant, thuggishness is gaining strength, violence is surging, the economy is running into the ground, society is breakingî ó thatís aside from Jews being murdered with regularity.
Surprise, tourists are staying away from all that. Can you fight the restraint of tourists when thereís restraint in the war on terrorists?
Itís not a Zionist problem, itís a natural problem.
ìBali hotel occupancy rates plunge,î noted CNN (Oct. 31). In Thailand, after headlines warned ìkingdom labeled a terrorist target,î the tourist industry tanked, too.
And neither Bali nor Thailand have suffered from the sustained assault on civilians and modes of transportation as has been the case in Israel.
The reaction in Thailand is oddly reminiscent of the tourist crisis in Israel ó blame the tourists, not the lack of security, talk up how safe it is ó until itís time to step over the bodies.
ìPlease donít be frightened,î The New York Times (Nov. 12) quotes Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. ìIf Iím not afraid, you shouldnít be either.î
There, do you feel less afraid? Who in Bali was afraid?
In Thailand, the Times said, ìMany of the steps that followed seemed intended as much to reassure as to have a real effect on terrorism.î
According to Haaretz, thatís whatís happening in Israel, as well.
Here in the U.S., to listen to rabbinic scolds, empty Israeli hotels are the fault of insensitive American Jews who lack solidarity. In fact, the idealists among us cannot be deterred from visiting Israel, but the idealism of American Jewish pilgrims is not being met with appreciation at the check-in desk.
Instead, our idealism is being met by Israeli price gouging, according to Israeli press reports. Tourism, under these circumstances, is for ìsuckers,î a word used by one hotelier referring to clients of the offending hotels.
Haaretz (Nov. 8) tried testing the extent of the gouging by looking into hotel practices in Europe. The reporters called the Paris Hilton for rates, first posing as Parisians and then as foreign tourists. Both times, the rate was 375 euros per night.
Then they called nine major Israeli hotels, posing first as locals and then as foreign tourists. In most cases they discovered that rates for foreigners are ìsubstantially higherî than for locals, with a price differential ìsometimes climbing into the hundreds of dollars.î
Haaretz asks: ìCan this be the way to encourage a visit by a tourist or businessman who, in the midst of these terrible times, demonstrates support for Israel?î
Is it even decent, in the presence of the dead, to insist that terrorist venues are safe? Several of the hotels have been shown to lack sufficient security. Serious questions were raised about the lack of security at the Netanya hotel that was the site of this yearís seder massacre, and Israelís Ministry of Tourism Rehavam Zeevi was assassinated last year by employees of the Jerusalem hotel in which he was staying.
Haaretz questions a tourist promotion campaign that is based on ìextreme denial.î The situation that led to the tourism crisis ìis completely overlooked,î the paper said.
Ministry of Tourism officials told Haaretz that the price differentials are not ìa government matter, itís a free market.î But if a Jewish tourist naturally reacts to this free market by deciding itís not affordable, let alone not a price worth paying for Israelís security failure, weíre told that this Jew is somehow bad.
For example, in a Jerusalem Post op-ed (Nov. 6), Gil Troy, a professor at McGill University in Montreal, declared: ìIn this hour of great need, the American Jewish community has let Israel down.î Thatís the consensus. In other words, dear reader, itís all your fault.
And, of course, itís all the mediaís fault. Shosh Leket, the head of the Jerusalem Municipalityís tourism department, blames the media for ìover-dramatizingî terrorism. In other words, she told Haaretz, an exploding Jerusalem bus with dozens of dead Jews should not be presented as something unusually dramatic.
The old Zionist ideal that every Jewish life is of infinite value now seems secondary to a new ideal in which ìinfinite valueî is less about lives than dollars spent. Write less about the dead and where they died.
ìWhy,î Leket asks Haaretz, ìdo you have to write in the headline that the attack was in the heart of the city? Itís damaging to us. The media is part of the government establishment and it shouldnít get into commentary.î
The idea that the media is responsible not to truth or the people (or to the Jewish dead) but to the government establishment and its tourist lobby is a mentality more familiar to the Third World or Israelís authoritarian neighbors. And, of course, if the American media did downplay the news exactly as this Jerusalem official suggests, it would be journalistic malpractice if not anti-Semitism. The same Jewish leaders who shill that Israel is safe would be the same leaders screaming at the media for downplaying the horror.
Israelís real problems arenít American Jews or the lack of them.
Yediotís editorial (Nov. 5) said, ìHistorians who in 50 or 100 or 150 years search archives on Israelís history will rip their eyes out in amazement [at the current political ineptitude]. Terror attacks continue. … The report on the number of people living below the poverty line [one in five Israelis] should shock the nation, the credit rating is on its way down.î
Haaretz adds (Nov. 5), ìhundreds of thousands of foreign workers are overloading the labor market ó not just by taking Israeli jobs, but by depressing wage levels in construction, agriculture, restaurants, catering and personal services.î
The next day, the editors concluded that ìthe collapse of the outgoing government can only be welcomed. It will be remembered as one of the worst governments in Israelís history.î
For all the crowing by American Zionists over what a great democracy Israel is ó compared to what other democracy? ó Yediot said (Nov. 6): ìThe Israeli political system has failed miserably. The rule of one main party [Labor, from 1948 to 1977] resulted in corruption. The division of the parties into factions brought anarchy.î
Too many of Israelís leaders, Yediot went on, ìare a dull shadow of the leaders the Jewish people and Israel once had.

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