Jews and Evangelical Christians, Israel wants you, and will pay half a million bucks to make sure you come.
After seeing a 14 percent jump in tourism in April, the Ministry of Tourism is launching a $500,000 advertising blitz in media aimed at the two groups that have kept the industry barely alive with solidarity missions despite 32 months of violence.
Tourism, which had pumped $4 billion into the Israeli economy before the violence began, added only $1 billion last year as the number of tourists dropped from 3 million to fewer than 1 million. But Tourism Minister Benny Elon told a press conference here Monday that he hoped the ad campaign would help spark a tourist revival.
With Gary Bauer, the former presidential candidate and chairman of American Values sitting at his side, Elon pointed out that 300,000 Evangelical Christians visited Israel last year. Bauer, himself an Evangelical Christian, said he would like the U.S. State Department to "revisit" its travel advisory for Israel.
"For years, Christians have had a special place [in their hearts] for Israel," Bauer said, adding that he became more determined than ever to encourage tourism to Israel after hearing Hamas leader Abdel Azziz Rantisi warn all foreigners last week to leave Israel because their goal is to drive all Jews from the land.
At the same time efforts were launched to promote tourism, plans were being finalized for about 1,000 Americans to make aliyah next month with the help of Nefesh B’Nefesh, a group that provides financial help to those making the move.
At a luncheon Tuesday for several of the families, sponsored by the Jewish Agency and UJA-Federation of New York, Shlomo and Susie Benzaquen of Passaic, N.J., said they were moving with their six children to Israel July 22. Shlomo Benzaquen said they planned to move to Kochav Yaakov in the West Bank because "we can get a nice six-bedroom house (a villa) and a beautiful view for the same money that would buy us a small apartment in Jerusalem."
Deena Singer, 30, said she would be fulfilling a "lifelong dream" when she, her husband, Aaron, and their two young daughters move to the same West Bank community.
"I’m not going to believe it until I get on the plane," she said.
David Forchheimer, 29, who was born in Israel, said he plans to move from upstate Monsey to Safed with his wife, Amy, and their 3-year-old daughter, Naomi.
"My parents are not very happy," Amy Forchheimer confessed. "They think I’m crazy."