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American Jews Not Coming to Israel, Tourism Ministry Official Complains

Israel’s tourism industry is in trouble, and American Jews are to blame.

That was the clear message sent by Tourism Minister Avraham Sharir during a television appearance Wednesday broadcast live via satellite to Jewish federations across North America.

Speaking from Jerusalem, Sharir called a 20 to 25 percent drop in the projected number of American tourists this year a “sorry figure,” and said “there is a big gap between the support we get from the Jewish community and the numbers who actually come here.”

At the same time, Sharir announced a new public relations and advertising initiative to counter the negative impact of more than five months of unrest in the West Bank and Gaza.

Details of the initiative were provided in New York by Moshe Shoshani, Israel’s commissioner for tourism in North America. Shoshani said in an interview that Israel has selected a new advertising and public relations agency, New York-based Gerycom International, and a new campaign theme, “Come See It for Yourself.”

“The purpose of the advertising will be to show that whatever is said in the media is not true,” said Shoshani, who attended the broadcast at the headquarters of the Council of Jewish Federations.

20 TO 25 PERCENT DROP

Shoshani said at least 500,000 American tourists had been expected to visit Israel during its 40th year, compared to 415,000 in 1987. “The disturbances will create a loss of 20 to 25 percent of that 415,000,” or between 80,000 and 100,000 visitors, he explained.

Israel’s tourism revenue for 1987 was $1.3 billion dollars. U.S. tourism accounted for one-third of that figure, said Shoshani.

The need to counteract Israel’s negative media image was a recurrent theme of the 40-minute broadcast, which allowed viewers to call in with questions for Sharir and Bennett Aaron, past president of the Federation of Jewish Agencies in Philadelphia and a member of the CJF board of directors.

Callers from federations in Toronto, Detroit, Houston and New York all asked about media coverage.

“There is no doubt that media coverage (of unrest in the territories) has diminished the enthusiasm” of travelers, said Aaron, who is in Israel leading a fact-finding mission on tourism. “For the unsophisticated traveler, I might understand that. But we should not be reacting to the media as those less informed.”

Aaron, national mission chair of the United Jewish Appeal, said the UJA will take a “major role” in urging Jewish leaders to “step forward” and promote tourism.

Sharir also said that Israel was experiencing peace and tranquility and “normal life.” He stressed both the rewards and obligations of a trip to Israel.

The tourism minister had angry words for the U.S. State Department, which has a longstanding travel advisory urging caution for travelers to Israel.

“They know how untruthful such a statement is, how unreal, how unnecessary,” Sharir said.

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