Ministry: Migration Policy Harming Local Tourism

Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov yesterday accused the Interior Ministry of sabotaging tourism to Israel and damaging Israel's international standing with its immigration policy.

Misezhnikov asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hold a debate on the immigration enforcement policy, especially police actions against illegal migrants and restricting the mobility of foreign nationals into and from the West Bank.

"Tourism is one of Israel's most profitable industries," the minister wrote to Netanyahu. "But while the Tourism Ministry is acting to facilitate incoming tourism, the Interior Ministry is impeding these efforts."

Last week, Haaretz reported that Israel had recently toughened foreign nationals' entry into the country if they have family, work, business or academic ties in the West Bank, and restricts their movements to "the Palestinian Authority only."

Misezhnikov says the new policy "damages Israel's image and reduces the number of tourists, as for many of them, traveling to holy sites in the West Bank is an indispensable part of their visit."

Tourism Ministry figures show three million tourists visited Israel in 2008, contributing NIS 25 billion to the economy. They also contributed to the creation of 90,000 new jobs.

Attorney Oded Feller of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said "The harassment of tourists wishing to visit Israel and the West Bank, while channeling huge resources to deporting refugees and job seekers, is not a substitute for policy."