As an active member of the Jewish community in Chile, a small minority making up only 0.1% of our country's population, far too often I have had to step up and defend you, Israeli tourists, as well as other Jews visiting here. I have been part of different Jewish groups and organizations all whom have seen their members waste energy, time and money trying to “clean-up” Israel’s image. I am tired, and I believe I am not the only one.
When you, Israelis considering travelling to Latin America, talk to your compatriots who have made a similar trip, you have probably heard or read more than once about Israelis who have been thrown out of a national park, or refused accommodation; they may have mentioned the lack of help from local residents and other difficulties they might have experienced during their post-army trip.
Every month there are more and more headlines, Facebook statuses, and blogs mentioning Israeli tourists. Sadly, they don’t describe Israelis as harmless, friendly and sociable tourists, but as harmful, aggressive, unsociable, disrespectful ones. They demonstrate an astonishing lack of education and respect.
December 2011: An Israeli was arrested on suspicion of having started a forest fire in Torres del Paine that consumed 16,000 hectares of land.
November 2012: Two Israeli tourists were thrown out of the park for camping in an unauthorized area - a protected wilderness between Refugio Grey and Campamento Guardas, even after they had signed a document clearly indicating that this was forbidden.
December 2012: Five Israelis were expelled from the Torres del Paine for illegally lighting a fire. The same month, four Israelis were kicked out of the park for ignoring the ranger’s instructions and provoking a disturbance in the camping area.
To this we can add the naked Israeli posing for pictures in Machu Picchu, a sacred place for the Inca; Israelis “forgetting” bullets in their backpacks while traveling to India; and –most recently - the orgy-party in Mulluqocha, a Peruvian archeological park, where 60 Israelis were found with drugs, alcohol, spray paint and loud music, as well as 21 ancient Incan ceramic pieces. I could continue.
Hatred towards Jews, political campaigns tinged with anti-Semitic, and conspiracy theories positing Israeli backpackers as 'scouts' checking out land in South America to establish a new Jewish state (the notorious 'Plan Andinia') are long-term staples of life in the Diaspora - but they are growing. That is why we do hasbara and why we fight anti-Semitism all over the world.
I know that many Jews around the world (including Israelis) do their utmost to transmit a good and positive image of Israel, but when this is followed up by young Israeli tourists flouting legal and cultural norms, it neutralizes the hours of work put into this.
I have been to Israel several times and I resent the lack of “please” and “thank you,” but this goes a step further. When you come to Latin America, or visit other countries around the world, remember one thing, Israeli tourists: This is not your country. You are in someone else’s home.
An Israeli tourist is an ambassador, but undoubtedly they are creating more harm than good to Jewish communities abroad. Israeli tourists, when you're planning your big trip, please, remember that you go back to Israel, but we are the ones that stay and have to deal with the aftermath you have left, and we are tired.
Michelle Hites is an architecture student and an active member of the Jewish community in Santiago, Chile.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now