Tourism to Israel Down 50 Percent, but Immigration Still on the Rise

Immigrants are pouring into Israel in record numbers, but tourists are staying away in droves.

The Hotel Association said Monday that tourism was down by 50 percent in September and that some 2,000 hotel employees were dismissed.

A severe blow was a Swiss Foreign Office advisory last weekend warning Swiss nationals not to travel to the Middle East for the time being.

Switzerland has been one of the biggest sources of European visitors to Israel. An Israel Food Festival, an annual tourist promotion event to have opened in Lausanne this month, was canceled.

But more than 111,000 immigrants have arrived in Israel so far this year, the vast majority from the Soviet Union, and at least 70,000 more are expected by the year’s end.

Those figures were provided Monday by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

But an aliyah of nearly 200,000 could be a mixed blessing, given the perilous state of the Israeli economy.

The Bank of Israel, the country’s central bank, disclosed Monday that inflation doubled during the second quarter and is now running at a 23 percent annual rate.

Olim arriving in the weeks ahead may find a country paralyzed in many sectors by labor strife.

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers announced Monday that they would strike Tuesday morning to protest the denial of salary increases by the Education Ministry and the Treasury.

Doctors employed by government hospitals and Kupat Holim, Histadrut’s health care agency, staged a one-day work slowdown Monday. They will return to their normal schedule Tuesday.

NATIONWIDE STRIKE THREATENED

But the truce is over between Histadrut and the government.

Chaim Haberfeld, head of the labor federation’s trade unions department, has renewed his threat of an open-ended general strike that could idle tens of thousands of workers in the public sector and probably cripple the entire economy.

Haberfeld planned to call the strike a week ago. He held off after discerning signs that the Treasury might be willing to modify features of its economic program unacceptable to labor.

But Haberfeld said his hopes did not materialize.

Employees of the Israel Electric Corp. have threatened labor sanctions that could reduce the supply of electric power to consumers beginning Tuesday. They are protesting the court’s failure to reverse a ruling that canceled their pay hike.

Parts of Israel may be temporarily without water Thursday when employees of Mekorot, the national water company, hold a work stoppage to protest a planned reorganization that might affect their pay and working conditions.

The hotel owners, meanwhile, are offering their premises to serve as temporary absorption centers for arriving immigrants.

They are stressing the temporary nature of their offer. As soon as tourism recovers, the olim would have to go.

(JTA correspondent Tamar Levy in Geneva contributed to this report.)

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