Israel's Tourism Sector Feeling the Sting of Foreign Ministry Strike

Irit Rosenblum
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Irit Rosenblum

The strike at the Foreign Ministry is damaging the country's tourism industry, as officials are refusing to handle visa applications, sector sources told Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The ministry staff has been on strike since the end of December.

Israel only recently got past its last tourism crisis, and was beginning to see record numbers of visitors, but the strike could change this, the chairman of the federation of Israeli tourism organizations warned Lieberman in a letter.

One particularly problematic aspect of the strike is the fact that ministry officials are refusing to deal with tourism visas, Michael Federmann wrote.

The Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association made a similar complaint. As a result, hotels, tour operators, transportation companies, tour guides, airlines and other businesses are all losing revenue, the association said.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz with a man protesting on behalf of the Foreign Ministry employees last week.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

"We saw how doing away with the visa requirement for Russian tourists contributed massively to the tourism industry," said Federmann.

Beyond the financial damage, the strike is also hurting Israel's reputation, he added. One recent, well-publicized consequence of the strike is Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's decision to postpone a visit to Israel, which had been scheduled for tomorrow. He is traveling to the region with a particularly large entourage - 500 businessmen, diplomats and pilgrims - all of whom will now only be going to Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

The group had been scheduled to stay at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, but they canceled their reservation. The hotel reportedly stands to lose a lot of money from this, as it has not been able to fill the rooms on such short notice.

International conferences are also facing problems due to the strike, because they often invite participants from dozens of countries, many of whom require visas to enter, said the tour operators' representative.