A bill sponsored by MK Gideon Ezra (Kadima ) and seven other Knesset members proposes to ban residents of East Jerusalem from serving as tour guides in the city, potentially putting hundreds out of work. Ezra, who said he was temporarily freezing work on the bill so as not to damage the negotiations with Palestinians, said in the introduction to the bill he believed Palestinian residents of Jerusalem should not be certified guides because they did not represent Israel's national interest well enough "and in an appropriate manner."
Ezra's bill has so far won the endorsement of MKs Uri Ariel (National Union ), Carmel Shama and Danny Danon (Likud ), Avraham Michaeli (Shas ), Nachman Shai and Otniel Schneller (Kadima ), as well as Ilan Ghilon (Meretz ). Ghilon later withdrew his signature, with his aides citing a misunderstanding.
The bill proposes that a guide leading a group of over 11 people, or traveling in more than one vehicle, must be a citizen of Israel. Most Arab residents of East Jerusalem have residency status but not citizenship, and so would be banned from guiding a majority of the tourist groups.
"Israel has valuable tourism sites," the text of the proposed bill reads. "Oftentimes there are disagreements on the manner of the presentation of these sites historically, religiously, culturally and more. The city of Jerusalem, with its many historic sites, is an example of a site about which there are such disagreements. Some of the residents of Israel, like those in East Jerusalem, often have 'dual loyalty,' since they vote in elections of the Palestinian Authority.
"These residents often present anti-Israeli positions to groups of tourists that they guide. To ensure foreign tourists are exposed to the national Israeli viewpoint, we suggest ruling that travel agencies, and any organization providing tours for foreign tourists, ensure that the groups are accompanied by a tour guide who is an Israeli citizen and has institutional loyalty to the State of Israel," the bill suggests.
Samir Bahbah, chairman of the association of East Jerusalem tour guides, told Haaretz there are some 300 Palestinian guides holding certification from Israel's Tourism Ministry. All of them could become the target of the bill.
Ezra decided to suspend work on the bill for the meantime, out of concern for the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. "The problem is a problem," Ezra said, "It's clear to me there are tour guides hostile to the State of Israel and to Jerusalem. They are also the cheapest. But I don't want to hurt the talks and I will not be promoting the bill in the near future."
The Jerusalem NGO Ir Amim, which works to promote Jewish-Arab coexistence in the capital, slammed the bill yesterday, saying: "We know all too well which states attach state-sponsored guides to foreign tourists. This bill is just another one bringing us closer to this kind of state. This is not only a dangerous political clampdown, but a desperate economic blow to the tourism resource, possibly the only resource still available to East Jerusalemites."
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