By BERNIE BELLAN For a change of pace, rather than focusing on local issues in this column, I’ve decided to write about the effect that the ongoing spate of attacks by Palestinians on Israelis has had on tourism in Israel.
It’s not easy to find reports of the disastrous effect that those random attacks have had on the tourist industry in Israel – for understandable reasons. The Israeli government would be very reluctant to concede that those attacks have had a crippling effect, not only on the psyche of Israeli citizens, but on the willingness of foreigners to visit Israel.
While data for the numbers of tourists to have visited Israel varies widely depending on the source (For instance, some sources include all visitors to Israel, including people there on business), the Israeli government does provide statistics on the number of tourists who have visited Israel which indicate that the final four months of 2015 showed a precipitous decline in tourism
Here are figures for the number of tourists to visit Israel from September – December for the years 2012-2015 (in thousands), as supplied by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism:
September October November December Total
2012 235.9 298.3 223.4 195.1 952.7
2013 211.8 338.9 265.5 241.0 1057.2
2014* 179.5 275.9 219.2 203.4 878.0
2015 232.9 289.7 209.1 197.2 928.9
*2014 was the year Israel engaged in a seven-week war with Hamas during the summer. Up until that war, Israel was on pace to receive a record number of tourists. Again – in 2015, Israel was once again on pace to enjoy a record tourist year – until the stabbings began in September. I don’t suppose it does any good to note that tourism to the Palestinian territories has also suffered a huge drop since September. In the logic of the Middle East the worse conditions become, the more likely it is that fundamentalist Islam will take root among Muslims so, while Palestinians can complain incessantly about Israeli repression, the truth is that economic progress for Palestinians never seems to lead to an increased willingness to accept the idea of peaceful coexistence with Israel among Palestinians. (Gee, I’m beginning to sound more and more like Myron Love, aren’t I?)
The total number of tourists to visit Israel in all 12 months of 2015 was 2,799,500.
Contrast this with the record number of tourists to visit Israel in 2013, which was 2,926,700. But, until those stabbings and car rammings began in September, Israel was well on its way to receiving a record number of tourists, something which was especially gratifying after the hit the entire economy took as a result of the 2014 war with Hamas.
Still, while the overall numbers may be down, there are some interesting aspects of the tourism trade in Israel that may offer some hope for the future that I was able to glean from another table produced by Israel’s Tourism Ministry, and that is where the tourists are coming from.
Here were the leading countries of origin for tourists to Israel in 2015:
USA – 637,300
Russian Federation – 414,600
France – 300,100
United Kingdom – 197,900
Germany – 197,700
Ukraine – 138,000
Where was Canada on the list? Only 66,700. Compare that with the number of Canadian tourists to visit Israel in 2013: 71,000.
What I find most fascinating in these figures is the number of tourists from Russia and Ukraine. While I don’t know how many of those tourists were Jewish or not, the fact is that Israel has become a prime tourist destination for tourists from Eastern Europe. Flights to Israel are cheap from Russia and Ukraine; a random check on Expedia showed flights ranging from $440 – $500.
But, while there has been an upsurge in tourists from Eastern Europe – especially since Turkey has become an increasingly dangerous place to visit, I couldn’t help but notice what fantastic deals are available for tourists from Western Europe. I was able to find a one-week package holiday including airfare from London and a week’s stay in a hotel in Eilat for only $750 Cdn.
According to what I’ve been reading about the decline in the number of tourists who are visiting Israel these days, the pain is being felt almost exclusively in Jerusalem. Eilat is receiving record numbers of tourists, while Tel Aviv is doing about the same as it had in previous years. Other tourist centres, such as Netanya and Herzliyah, have experienced slight declines, but nothing major.
Still, it was an ad appearing in this week’s issue of our paper that made me take stock of the current situation – an ad from an organization called “Bet Halochem” (Home of the Soldier) advertising a mission to Israel.
“Mission to Israel?” I thought. That’s something you just don’t hear about much these days. Last year there was a Jewish Federation Mission to Israel – as there has been almost every year since I can remember. I haven’t heard of one going this year, nor is there one that I’ve seen from the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University (which, in recent years, found itself forced to include other destinations such as Italy, in addition to Israel, in order to attract participants).
But, what if you just wanted to go to Israel on your own from Canada? There are some terrific deals available. You could fly there (from Toronto) and stay a week in a nice hotel in Tel Aviv for under $2,000, taxes included. Or, if you just wanted to fly to Israel the prices for flights are extraordinarily cheap these days. You can get a flight from Winnipeg to Tel Aviv return for just a little over $1,000.
There is one other aspect to the tourist situation in Israel that bears repeating, which is the tremendously important role that Christian tourism plays. According to Israel’s Ministry of Tourism 56% of tourists to Israel in 2014 were Christian. Christian tour groups have continued to go to Israel year after year, even as Jewish tour groups have been declining in number.
Until this past September Jerusalem remained the most popular tourist destination in Israel by far, especially among Christian tourists. No doubt, unless the random attacks perpetrated by Palestinians subside, it is hard to imagine how Jerusalem can recapture that prominent position any time soon.
Okay, so it’s probably too late to think of going to Israel on a winter holiday. I’ve been to Israel often before and I never tire of visiting that country (although the length of the flight does get to me). I admit though that I’ve been to Jerusalem so many times (and lived there as a student), that I don’t particularly fancy going there again anytime soon. But Tel Aviv? Wow! That is one city that I never tire of visiting.
The fact though is that when it comes to taking a winter vacation, there aren’t many Canadians who put Israel into their travel plans.
There’s a reason that I put my article about the upcoming Palm Springs reunion of Winnipeggers and ex-Winnipeggers on page 1 of this issue: Palm Springs (with a nod to Boca Raton) is now the winter capital for so many Winnipeg Jews.
But, with the Canadian dollar taking the hit that it’s taken these past couple of months, I wonder how many snowbirds might have reconsidered their plans had they known they would be paying over 40¢ on the U.S. dollar this winter? (I know that I cut short my planned holiday to the States that we’re going to take this year.)
Like so many aspects to life these days, the requisite pilgrimage to Israel is hardly a must-do for anyone who’s Jewish and under the age of 50. Sure, all those kids going on the free Birthright trip are as eager as ever to take advantage of that opportunity. But, when it comes to a follow up trip years down the road – not likely for those Birthright participants.
I realize that the experience of going to Palm Springs, Florida, or Mexico is hardly the same as going to Israel, but for any of you who experience guilt pangs over being able to lead a comfortable life in Canada without having to experience the day to day concerns that our compatriots in Israel do, why not consider a trip to Israel some time this year? I’ll always remember the gratitude expressed by Israelis to those of us who flew to Israel as part of a mission during the Gaza war in August 2014.
Hamas murdered their friend. Now, they help Israeli soldiers to keep his memory alive
By VIRGINIA ALLEN (The Daily Signal) David Newman sent a text to a friend the morning of Saturday, Oct. 7. Something terrible had happened. Word quickly spread among Newman’s group of friends, who had known each other since high school.
Newman, 25, had traveled the night before to the music festival in southern Israel, close to the border with the Gaza Strip. It was supposed to be a fun weekend with his girlfriend “celebrating life,” something Newman, who served with the Israel Defense Forces, was good at and loved to do, friend Gidon Hazony recalls.
When Hazony learned that Newman, his longtime friend, was in danger, he and another friend decided they were “going to go down and try and save him.” Trained as a medic and armed with a handgun and bulletproof vest, Hazony started driving south from Jerusalem.
Hazony and his friend ended up joining with other medical personnel and “treated probably around 50 soldiers and civilians in total that day,” Hazony recalls, but they kept trying to make it south to rescue Newman.
But the two “never made it down to the party, and that’s probably for the best,” Hazony says, “because that area was completely taken over by terrorists. And if we had gone down there, I think we would’ve been killed.”
Hazony later learned that Hamas terrorists had murdered Newman on Oct. 7, but not before Newman had saved nearly 300 lives, including the life of his girlfriend.
When the terrorists began their attack on the music festival, many attendees began running to their cars. But Newman and his girlfriend encountered a police officer who warned them to run the opposite direction because the terrorists were near the vehicles, says David Gani, another friend of Newman’s.
Newman “ran in the opposite direction with his girlfriend and whoever else he could kind of corral with him,” Gani explains during an interview on “The Daily Signal Podcast.”
“They saw two industrial garbage cans, big containers, and so David told everyone, ‘Hide, hide in those containers,’” Gani says. “And so what he did over the course of the next few hours is, he would take people and … he was this big guy, and he would just chuck them in that container. And then he would go in, wait, wait till the coast is clear, and then he’d go back out, find more people, put them in there.”
Newman’s actions that day, and the atrocities Hazony and so many others in Israel witnessed Oct. 7, led Hazony, Gani, and several friends to quit their jobs and set up a nonprofit called Soldiers Save Lives. The organization is working to collect tactical and humanitarian aid for the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF.
According to the group’s website, Soldiers Save Lives has supplied over 20 IDF units and civilian response teams “with protective and self-defense gear.”
Gani, board chairman, chief financial officer, and chief technology officer of Soldiers Save Lives, and Hazony, president of the organization, recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to raise support and awareness for their mission to provide IDF troops with needed supplies.
If you would like to find out more about Soldiers Save Lives or donate to them, go to https://www.soldierssavelives.org/
Reprinted with permission.
Our New Jewish Reality
By HENRY SREBRNIK Since Oct. 7, we Jews have been witnessing an ongoing political and psychological pogrom. True, there have been no deaths (so far), but we’ve seen the very real threat of mobs advocating violence and extensive property damage of Jewish-owned businesses, and all this with little forceful reaction from the authorities.
The very day after the carnage, Canadians awoke to the news that the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust had inspired sustained celebrations in its major cities. And they have continued ever since. I’d go so far as to say the Trudeau government has, objectively, been more interested in preventing harm to Gazans than caring about the atrocities against Israelis and their state.
For diaspora Jews, the attacks of Oct. 7 were not distant overseas events and in this country since then they have inspired anti-Semitism, pure and simple, which any Jew can recognize. Even though it happened in Israel, it brought back the centuries-old memories of defenseless Jews being slaughtered in a vicious pogrom by wild anti-Semites.
I think this has shocked, deeply, most Jews, even those completely “secular” and not all that interested in Judaism, Israel or “Zionism.” Jewish parents, especially, now fear for their children in schools and universities. The statements universities are making to Jewish students across the country could not be clearer: We will not protect you, they all but scream. You’re on your own.
But all this has happened before, as we know from Jewish history. Long before Alfred Dreyfus and Theodor Herzl, the 1881 pogroms in tsarist Russia led to an awakening of proto-Zionist activity there, with an emphasis on the land of Israel. There were soon new Jewish settlements in Palestine.
The average Jew in Canada now knows that his or her friend at a university, his co-worker in an office, and the people he or she socializes with, may in fact approve, or at least not disapprove, of what happened that day in Israel. Acquaintances or even close friends may care far more about Israel killing Palestinians in Gaza. Such people may even believe what we may call “Hamas pogrom denial,” already being spread. Many people have now gone so far in accepting the demonization of Israel and Jews that they see no penalty attached to public expressions of Jew-hatred. Indeed, many academics scream their hatred of Israel and Jews as loud as possible.
One example: On Nov. 10, Toronto officers responded to a call at an Indigo bookstore located in the downtown. It had been defaced with red paint splashed on its windows and the sidewalk, and posters plastered to its windows.
The eleven suspects later arrested claimed that Indigo founder Heather Reisman (who is Jewish) was “funding genocide” because of her financial support of the HESEG Foundation for Lone Soldiers, which provides scholarships to foreign nationals who study in Israel after serving in the Israeli armed forces. By this logic, then, most Jewish properties and organizations could be targeted, since the vast majority of Jews are solidly on Israel’s side.
Were these vandals right-wing thugs or people recently arrived from the Middle East? No, those charged were mostly white middle-class professionals. Among them are figures from academia, the legal community, and the public education sector. Four are academics connected to York University (one of them a former chair of the Sociology Department) and a fifth at the University of Toronto; two are elementary school teachers; another a paralegal at a law firm.
Were their students and colleagues dismayed by this behaviour? On the contrary. Some faculty members, staff and students at the university staged a rally in their support. These revelations have triggered discussions about the role and responsibilities of educators, given their influential positions in society.
You’ve heard the term “quiet quitting.” I think many Jews will withdraw from various clubs and organizations and we will begin to see, in a sense like in the 1930s, a reversal of assimilation, at least in the social sphere. (Of course none of this applies to Orthodox Jews, who already live this way.)
Women in various feminist organizations may form their own groups or join already existing Jewish women’s groups. There may be an increase in attendance in K-12 Jewish schools. In universities, “progressive” Jewish students will have to opt out of organizations whose members, including people they considered friends, have been marching to the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and similar eliminationist rhetoric, while waving Palestinian flags.
This will mostly affect Jews on the left, who may be supporters of organizations which have become carriers of anti-Semitism, though ostensibly dealing with “human rights,” “social justice,” and even “climate change.”
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg took part in a demonstration outside the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm on Oct. 22 in which she chanted “crush Zionism” along with hundreds of other anti-Israel protesters. Israel is now unthinkingly condemned as a genocidal apartheid settler-colonialist state, indeed, the single most malevolent country in the world and the root of all evil.
New York Times Columnist Bret Stephens expressed it well in his Nov. 7 article. “Knowing who our friends aren’t isn’t pleasant, particularly after so many Jews have sought to be personal friends and political allies to people and movements that, as we grieved, turned their backs on us. But it’s also clarifying.”
Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown.
Former Winnipegger Vivian Silver, at first thought to have been taken hostage, has now been confirmed dead
Former Winnipegger and well-known Israeli peace activist Vivian Silver has now been confirmed as having been killed during the massacre of Israelis and foreign nationals perpetrated by Hamas terrorists on October 7. Vivian, a resident of Kibbutz Be’eri was originally thought to be among the more than 1200 individuals who were taken hostage by Hamas.
To read the full story on the CBC website, go to https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/israel-gaza-vivian-silver-1.7027333