Israelis on Cruise Ship Barred From Entering Tunis

Jewish non-Israeli passenger permitted to disembark tells Haaretz that the ship kept it a secret.

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Israeli tourists aboard a Norwegian cruise ship were barred from disembarking in the Port of Tunis Sunday. They were forced to remain on the "Norwegian Jade", while non-Israeli Jewish passengers were allowed off.

A Jewish Canadian passenger on the ship who preferred to remain nameless told Haaretz that there were approximately 20 Israelis on the ship and that at first, no one knew they were denied entry because "the ship kept it a secret." They only found out because some had become friendly with a few Israelis on board.

"We met with the captain twice and his story kept up that he was waiting for instructions from head office in Miami... We told him he was making a political statement by not allowing the Israelis to leave the ship and he said it was out of his hands. We reminded him that he was the captain," the passenger said, adding that a "handful" of them decided to remain on board.

He said they were told there were more Israelis on the MSC Line ship that was docked next to them in Tunis.

According to a report in Algemeiner, B'nai Brith Canada issued a statement criticizing the operator Norwegian Cruise Line for failing to notify passengers ahead of time that they were not welcome on Tunisian soil by the government.

B'nai Brith said in a statement quoted in the report that the cruise line is not only responsible for advising passengers of such a "discriminatory policy" in advance, but should try to avoid ports with such politics altogether.

The ship was docked in Tunis for the day and is already back at sea.

Yaacov Zacharia of Tel Aviv, one of the Israelis on board, said he was “extremely offended” when he was told just hours before planning to disembark in Tunis that he was barred from doing so.

“It was one of the most unpleasant experiences I’ve had,” he told Haaretz by telephone from Palermo, Italy - the next stop on the cruise. He and his wife, Rachel, had decided to go on the cruise with the full understanding that the stop in Tunis was part of the package. “It was one of the reasons we chose it - the experience of visiting Tunisia. We’ve visited many of the European ports of call before.”

He said they were informed after they had already filled out the paperwork to disembark in Tunis. “It happened with no warning. And it is not as if we were hiding that we were Israelis until that point. We are proud Israelis, we never hid it from anyone.”

He said they had been offered compensation for the experience by the cruise line. “I’m interested in this story getting out and the cruise line doing something to change this situation, and certainly for Israelis to be warned before going on their cruises.”

Norwegian Jade is owned by Norwegian Cruise Lines, a major player in the cruise business. It is headquartered in Florida, and is estimated to control 8% of the cruise market.

The Norwegian Cruise Lines apologized "for any inconvenience to our guests" and said it "appreciate[s] their understanding. We are reviewing this decision with the appropriate officials," adding that "Port taxes for the call in Tunisia are being refunded to these guests.|

Cruise liner Pacific Princess, June 3, 2010Credit: Carnival Cruise Lines

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