Israeli medics tend to a wounded Palestinian woman, who according to Israeli police was shot after she was suspected by security guards and ignored calls to stop, at Qalandiya checkpoint near Ramallah on Feb. 27. Photo by Ammar Awad/REUTERS.

Israel denies tourist visa to Human Rights Watch staffer


Israel has denied a tourist visa to an American employee of Human Rights Watch days after denying his application for a work visa, citing the NGO’s alleged anti-Israel bias.

Omar Shakir, the new Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch, a leading nongovernmental organization, reported in an emailed statement Thursday and on Facebook that the Interior Ministry had denied his request to enter Israel on March 5 for a 10-day visit.

A letter from the Border Control Department of the Population and Immigration Authority noted the Foreign Ministry’s response when Shakir requested a work visa in denying the application: “For some time now, this organization’s public actions and reports have focused on politics in service of Palestinian propaganda while falsely raising the banner of ‘human rights,’ and therefore recommended denying the application.”

Iain Levine, the program director for Human Rights Watch, said it was “deeply troubling that Israeli officials, despite promises to the contrary, have denied Human Rights Watch’s country director a visa to enter Israel.”

“Blocking access for human rights workers impedes our ability to document abuses by all sides and to engage the Israeli and Palestinian authorities and partners to improve the human rights situation for all,” he said.

After Shakir had been denied a work visa on Feb. 21, an Israeli official said he could apply for a tourist visa, implying that it would be granted. Shakir has 45 days to file an appeal.

Airport planned for Israel-Jordan border clouds neighborly ties


A new airport planned by Israel near its border with Jordan is clouding the usually businesslike relationship the two neighbors have built since making peace in 1994.

Due to open next April, Ilan & Asaf Ramon Airport at Timna, in Israel's desert south, will be 10 km (6 miles) from Jordan's King Hussein International Airport. They will serve Eilat and Aqaba, the adjacent Israeli and Jordanian resort cities on the Red Sea.

Citing worry the proximity could spell dangerous disruptions to its air corridors, Amman last year complained to the U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Israel said Ramon would abide by ICAO regulations and pose no safety risk. The ICAO later said Israel and Jordan were addressing the matter directly “as one would expect from two countries with a peace treaty and a wide scope of cooperation in many fields”.

Israeli Transport Minister Yisrael Katz played down the dispute with Jordan, one of two Arab states with full ties with Israel.

“There is no confrontation,” he told Reuters in an interview. “There have been discussions (and) it was agreed that we will hold a professional-level meeting. The (Ramon) airport will open, and there will be coordination of air traffic.”

Jordan sounds less upbeat, however.

“We do not want to stand in the way of Israeli projects, but we have our concerns regarding our own airport, and there is also the matter of keeping the spirit of our peace agreement,” said a Jordanian official who declined to be identified.

The official was referring to a proposal, discussed in conjunction with the treaty, of building a jointIsraeli-Jordanian airport.

Katz said such a facility was an “option” that had gone unexercised. Opened in 1972, King Hussein underwent expansions after the 1994 peace accord to meet what the airport's website said was the rising demand of air traffic. Katz said Israel was therefore free to open Ramon on its side of the border.

 

TOURISM

Jordan's concern, he suggested, was over the prospective loss of tourists to Israel. Ramon will have a 3.6-km (2.2-mile) runway able to accommodate the largest airliners while King Hussein's runway length is a more limiting 3.1 km (1.9 miles).

King Hussein currently handles around four to six takeoffs and landings a day. Israel is planning for 10 times that capacity at Ramon.

“The thing is, this (Ramon) is a big international airport, representing a mass of tourists, which is seen as possibly competing with them in tourism and such things,” Katz said.

“We will propose to them that large planes that can't land there (King Hussein) will land here. I have no problem with people going to Aqaba from there (Ramon). They can cross at Arava crossing,” he said, referring to an overland border terminal north of Eilat, a 15-km (9-mile) drive from Ramon.

Peace with Israel was never popular among ordinary Jordanians, many of whom are Palestinian, and Amman officials sometimes lament what they see as the sluggish dividends from economic cooperation with their richer neighbor.

One Jordanian official based in the Aqaba area accused Israel of building Ramon airport to “market Petra” – the nearby archaeological wonder in Jordan – for excursions by tourists who would spend the bulk of their vacation in Eilat.

“We are protecting our national tourism industry from any invasion and from selling it illegally,” said the official, who also requested anonymity.

“Now we have imposed on those coming from the (Arava) crossing to either pay sixty dinars ($85) for a one-day (visa) or spend two nights in the kingdom,” with the fee refunded, the official said.

Eilat is currently served by a small municipal airport whose planned demolition will free up real estate within view of the beach.

Named after an Israeli astronaut lost in the 2003 space shuttle disaster and his eldest son, who died in a 2009 air force accident, Ramon is envisaged as an emergency alternative to Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel's main international gateway. Ben Gurion was briefed shunned by most foreign carriers due to incoming Palestinian rockets during the 2014 Gaza war.

Jerusalem, maybe next year: Passover bookings see sharp decline


By now, Gil Azoulay would have expected his hotels would be 80 percent booked for Passover.

Instead, Azoulay — who runs a chain of boutique hotels — has roughly half his rooms still available.

Azoulay opened Smart Hotels — a mini-chain of three small, midrange hotels that focus on providing personal attention to guests — in May 2014. Two months later, war broke out in Gaza, stunting Israel’s tourism industry. The months that followed saw a string of terror attacks in Jerusalem. Then, after a lull, a wave of stabbing and shooting attacks began last September and has yet to ease.

The conflict has taken a toll on Azoulay’s business, driving down Passover reservations 30 percent. Within the tourism industry, he’s not alone.

“The whole city is experiencing this decline,” he said of Jerusalem. “If once it was sold out for Passover and ‘chol hamoed’ [the holiday’s intermediate days], that’s happening less now.”

The Passover season is a significant income source for Jerusalem hotels. Bookings in April 2014 and 2015, the months of Passover, accounted for nearly 10 percent of the total hotel income for western Jerusalem in those years, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

Hotels across Jerusalem have seen a fall in Passover bookings this year, according to Arieh Sommer, director of the Israel Hotel Association. While he estimated that hotels would have about 85 percent of their rooms booked ahead of Passover in a normal year, this year he says the average could be as low as 70 percent.

It’s a drop that began with the July 2014 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge. Prior to the conflict, in April 2014 — the month of Passover — Jerusalem hotels took in about $40 million. April 2015 saw a 10 percent decline, to approximately $36 million.

“Since Protective Edge, there have been problems in incoming tourism to Israel,” Sommer said. “We saw that after Protective Edge, tourism rose again. But because of [recent] difficulties in Jerusalem, there is a slowdown in tourists coming to Israel.”

Violence isn’t the only factor hurting Jerusalem’s hotels. Apartment rentals, booked through companies like Airbnb, have cut into hotels’ market share since long before the Gaza war. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, Jerusalem hotels peaked at 10 million foreign guests in 2010. Since then, there’s been a steady decline.

“There was an assumption that the city was collapsing,” said Ilanit Melchior, director of tourism for the Jerusalem Development Authority. “The bottom line is that there was a decline, but it was not dramatic. During the intifada of the 2000s, the city proved it knows how to recover fast. There’s terror all over the world, not just in Jerusalem.”

And not all Jerusalem hotels are suffering. The Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem, which opened in 2014, has reported a 200 percent increase in bookings over last year. General Manager Guy Kleiman attributes the rise to the hotel’s brand name and the praise in reviews.

The Inbal, another five-star hotel, expects bookings to remain relatively stable this year. Alex Herman, Inbal’s vice president of sales and marketing, told JTA that many of its Passover guests are repeat visitors to Israel who remain relatively unfazed by the unrest.

“This is a population that comes,” Herman said. “A lot of people have family here. Life goes on, life is OK.”

None of the hotels contacted by JTA have advised guests to avoid certain areas, nor changed their security protocols in any way. Kleiman echoed Herman, saying the Passover tourists in Jerusalem are often repeat visitors, and they know to avoid more dangerous areas.

“People are mature enough to know where to go, where not to go,” Kleiman said. “People who come to Jerusalem in these times know the city.”

Azoulay expects his hotels to withstand the decline, though he hopes calm will return soon and tourists will again feel comfortable walking the streets.

Like other hoteliers, he’s also counting on Israelis to support the Jerusalem hotels by choosing to spend Passover in the capital. While overall hotel bookings have declined in Israel in recent years, domestic Israeli tourism is on a steady upswing. Internal Israeli hotel bookings increased 9 percent between 2014 and 2015.

“We want the Israeli tourist to come, to reassure him that there’s nothing to worry about,” he said. “We need them. They should come to Jerusalem.”

Blurring Israel’s Green Line


There is probably no Israel tour quite like that offered by Lydia Aisenberg, which focuses on the Green Line — the demarcation between Israel and its neighbors set in the 1949 Armistice Agreement after the end of Israel’s War of Independence. Since 1967, when Israel took military control of the area east of it, the Green Line has been controversial. 

“Over the last few decades, there’s been a concerted effort in Israel to blur the Green Line,” Aisenberg said, handing out a map showing the line in green, as well as an orange line marking the security wall and a blue line marking the 1947 boundary rejected by Jordan and other neighbors. Aisenberg said that taking visitors to the Green Line is considered disloyal by some Israelis. On one occasion, when she brought a group of European visitors to a checkpoint near the Green Line, an Israeli military guard called the 69-year-old a zona — a prostitute. 

“That’s when humor kicks in,” she said. “So I tell the guard at the checkpoint: ‘I’m delighted that you think a young man would spend good money to sleep with me!’ ”

Aisenberg’s tour of the Green Line and related locations is offered under the auspices of Givat Haviva, an Israeli-based nonprofit located in northern Israel. Founded in 1949, Givat Haviva (The Israeli Arab town of Barta’a. 

Although the physical barrier is no longer there, another kind of barrier persists: Those who live in West Barta’a are Israeli citizens while the Arabs who live in East Barta’a are not, and are thus not covered by Israeli institutions, such as universal health care. On the other hand, East Barta’a isn’t hampered by Israeli laws. As a result, East Barta’a has turned into a bustling free-trade zone where Israelis — Arabs and Jews — buy cheap goods.

Stylish hijabs for sale in a Barta’a store window

Aisenberg greeted and was greeted by Barta’a residents on both sides of town, Arabs who know her well. Those on the tour got a chance to interact with Aisenberg’s Arab friends, and she told poignant stories the residents have shared with her about their lives. Aisenberg said she sees Barta’a —where families are split by two different citizenships — as “a concrete, potent symbol” for Israel’s condition.  

And that’s when it became clear to Rafi that the aim of Aisenberg’s tour is to ask: How can Israeli Arabs and Jews find ways to connect with one another? The idea of a shared society is fundamental to Aisenberg’s — and Givat Haviva’s — vision for what Israel can become: a place where, Aisenberg said, “Arab citizens feel they have a stake in Israel’s future.”

Aisenberg is not naïve. She knows that she and Givat Haviva, advocating for peace and understanding, are swimming against the tide. But the latest round of violence hasn’t dampened Aisenberg’s — or Givat Haviva’s — determination to educate Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs in the importance of learning each other’s narrative. 

“We talk about the Green Line so that foreigners and Israeli citizens are better informed, so that judgments are based on facts, not on beliefs,” Aisenberg said. “By showing people both sides of the situation, with any luck, we can become neighbors instead of enemies.” 

Calm amidst the violence in Israel


On the day the world was parsing Bibi Netanyahu’s suggestion that the notoriously anti-Semitic Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Amin Al-Husseini, was responsible for Hitler’s Holocaust, I was among a group of journalists touring Jerusalem’s Waldorf Astoria hotel, which had just been named the top luxury hotel in the Middle East by Condé Nast’s Readers’ Choice Awards. 

This hotel, in fact, was once the mufti’s own prize hotel.

It reopened last year following a seven-year, $50 million expansion and renovation, but to Israelis it’s known as having been built by the mufti as his crowning achievement in luxury, his Palace Hotel. Al-Husseini opened the hotel in 1929 with great fanfare — it had an elevator! — but the business was crushed five years later when the King David Hotel opened just around the corner. 

The Palace Hotel, opened in 1929 by the Mufti of Jerusalem, was renovated and expanded into the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria. Photo is public domain

The British took over the building for a while, then after Israel’s independence in 1948, it served as Israeli government offices. It even housed a tax museum for many years, and you can imagine what an attraction that was. 

Today, the crystal-chandelier-clad Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem that beat out Qatar for glam is owned by the Orthodox Canadian Reichman family and is glatt kosher throughout, so many of its guests are Orthodox. I witnessed several shidduchs-in-progress in the grand courtyard.

Take that, mufti. 

I was in Israel at the height of the knifing terror, a guest of Israel’s Ministry of Tourism and the Hilton Hotels of Israel, of which the Waldorf Astoria is a showpiece. It was a trip full of juxtapositions: The news screamed of conflict. Life in Israel continued apace.

I saw great luxury on this trip — including on a tour of the “presidential suite” at the Waldorf, which has not yet housed a U.S. president but does lay claim to former House Speaker John Boehner having slept there. (Still less presidential, but perhaps more glitzy, the hotel has also hosted Hollywood celebs Sarah Silverman and John Turturro.) I also witnessed the insistence of Israelis to proceed with life, even when life threats are rupturing any sense of equanimity.

Israel is a place where your most helpful waiter will wear a nametag identifying him as Mohammed; where business partners sometimes live on opposite sides of partition barriers; where trust is a necessity, even when at every turn your bag is examined to check for weapons. Caution is a bylaw, but so is the insistence on normality. I took my cue from the Israelis and walked the streets, went to bars at night, visited the museums and shuks and ate in the restaurants. 

During this time of “the situation” — long the Israeli equivalent of the Irish term “the troubles” — there was great sadness but also a deliberate decision to move on. Some people stayed home — restaurants that might have been packed were, in many cases, only partially full — but others went out. Jerusalem’s Old City was not shy of tourists, especially the Christian pilgrims visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was filled to the brim. The Western Wall, normally a major attraction, was especially quiet, however, and the Mamilla mall, a beloved attraction of Arab and Jew alike, looked like half its clientele was staying home — the Arab half.

In Tel Aviv, however, crowds were far closer to normal. I attended a gala event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Hilton Tel Aviv that served as a benefit for the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of conductor and pianist Yaron Gottfried. Every seat was filled in the cavernous ballroom. And a visit to bars and clubs late one night showed no signs of revelers tapering off. Just try to tell Tel Aviv to stay home, and see what happens.

In Israel, as in the U.S., people blame a lot of any situation on “the media.” Too much talk of violent protests here? Blame the media. Too much talk of knifings there? The same. And what blew that story out of the headlines? Rain. (Sound like home?) A giant storm hit just as we were leaving Tel Aviv for a visit to Eilat, with brief stops planned at Masada and the Dead Sea. (Who says you can’t see all of Israel’s highlights in an afternoon?) Given the downpour, our veteran guide, Nathan Shapiro, had to decide how to navigate soaked roads to get us to a shuttered Masada mountain — not even the cable car was running — and to the Dead Sea, which was beautifully framed by a rainbow, and then on to Eilat. 

If there was a moment of exponential tension on the trip, it came as Shapiro decided whether we would be able to take an alternate route from the one everyone normally takes from the healing waters of the Dead Sea to the southernmost Israeli resort of Eilat, normally about a two-hour drive. The direct highway was closed by flooding, and the alternate route involved cutting over to the southwestern border and traveling alongside the Sinai. The road that night was dark, entirely unlit, and for most of it, we were completely alone. If you looked over to the right, you could see only border fence, and an occasional Egyptian guard post. This was before the Russian plane was downed, likely by a bomb, but even then I was very aware that ISIS might not be too far off.

And yet, carrying his merry band of journalists, Shapiro proceeded in good humor, and we approached Eilat watching a lightshow of lightning outside our windshield. The next day bloomed bright. Business as usual. Witnessing the Israeli resolve to move forward through “the situation” — and the rain — shows how chutzpah can override worry, and Israeli life will never be undone.

Susan Freudenheim is executive editor of the Jewish Journal.

Amid terror wave, Israel sells over 900 tour packages through Groupon


More than 900 discounted vacation packages to Israel have been sold through the marketing website Groupon.

Some 920 eight-day tour packages had been sold for $999 each on the website as of Thursday afternoon. The trips, marketed jointly with Israel’s Tourism Ministry, include flights, hotels and tours throughout the country. They have been on sale for less than a week and will remain on sale for seven more days.

“As a result of the success of the campaign, I have issued instructions to try and expand the marketing efforts and cooperation with discount sales sites in other countries,” Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said in a statement Thursday.

The offer comes amid a wave of terror that has affected tourism to Israel, the Israeli daily Yediot Acharonot reported. The package is designed “to project a sense of business as usual and encourage tourism during the months when hotel occupancies in Israel are low,” Levin  told the newspaper.

Ramadan tours promote coexistence between Israeli Arabs and Jews


The group of Jewish-Israelis sat in a semicircle on the thick, red carpet of the mosque. The women wore headscarves; everyone’s feet were bare.

They had come to this Arab town in central Israel to experience a slice of Ramadan, the monthlong daytime fast observed by Muslims that ends this week. But before they left the mosque to visit Kfar Qasim’s Ramadan market — a nightly, open-air food bazaar — tour guide Shawkat Amer sounded a note of reassurance.

Amer told the crowd that just before the fast ended that evening, loudspeakers would sound calls of “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” across the city. Although it’s a phrase some Jewish-Israelis may associate with the final cry of terrorists before an attack, Amer urged his guests to remain calm. The call, he said, is in fact a message of goodwill.

“Don’t worry, it’s not a threat,” he said. “If I say it, you should feel pleasure.”

The nearly 50 men, women and children who joined the group on Sunday night were among some 1,500 Jews who have toured Arab-Israeli cities in the past month for a small taste of iftar, the nightly meal that breaks the Ramadan fast. In spite of tensions between the groups, it’s common for Jewish-Israelis to visit Arab towns for discount shopping or Middle Eastern food. But these tours aimed to take that experience deeper by teaching about Arab-Israeli culture and religion.

“If the only narrative is a Jewish narrative and the only history is Jewish, and you just buy hummus from Arabs, that’s not good,” said Ron Gerlitz, co-executive director of Sikkuy, the Jewish-Arab coexistence nonprofit that organized the tours in Arab cities across central and northern Israel. “I don’t object to people buying hummus in Kfar Qasim, but for relations between Jews and Arabs, you need more than that.”

A city of 21,000 residents adjacent to the West Bank border and the middle-class Jewish city of Rosh Haayin, Kfar Qasim is one of Israel’s poorer towns. The Hebrew signs on the shops lining its streets are meant to entice Jewish customers.

As Koranic verses signaling the break-fast echoed across the city, the tour group flooded into an open-air food market set up for Ramadan. Merchants sold the tourists delicacies such as sticky pastries, fruit, pickled vegetables and falafel, fried on the spot in a giant pan. Part of the idea behind the tours, Gerlitz said, is to boost the Arab-Israeli economy, which has less exposure to tourism dollars than Jewish cities.

“Tourism is a meaningful tool for economic development, and tourism right now is mostly in Jewish towns,” he said. “Government investment is mostly in Jewish towns. That means there aren’t investments in Arab towns.”

But the tours also aim to confront historical wounds. Near the center of town, an austere black-and-white monument that looks like an upside-down obelisk with the year 1956 emblazoned on top commemorates the Kfar Qasim massacre, when Israeli border guards killed 48 fieldworkers returning home at curfew. In 2007, then-President Shimon Peres formally apologized for the incident, but residents say they are still pained by its memory. Some said they value dialogue with Jews as a way to move past historical trauma.

The tour group “doesn’t make a difference for me — but for my kids it does, so they won’t say Jews are animals,” said Amer Amer, a vendor of pickled vegetables whose father died in the massacre. “I want Jews to feel trusted here, at home here. I don’t want them to just say, ‘Those are Arabs.’”

The tour provided few opportunities for informal conversation with residents, focusing more on basic information about Islam and Arab-Israeli culture. But Adi, a Hebrew tutor who declined to give her last name, said the group’s exposure to Arab culture and Islam was still more than Jewish-Israelis normally receive.

“I think it was at a more informative level, but as an Israeli I got more of a taste [of Arab-Israeli life] than I get day to day,” she said. “It gave more familiarity than what I’m used to.”

At the mosque visit ahead of their trip to the market, the Jewish group heard Eyad Amer, a local imam, alternate between outlining the basics of Ramadan and answering the group’s questions about Islamic worship. Was there space for women in the mosque? (Yes, in another room.) Does Islam have egalitarian movements, like Judaism? (No.) How many of the city’s 25,000 residents observe the fast? (80 percent, based on mosque attendance.)

“They just hear about extremist Islam,” the imam told JTA after the tour. “They don’t know what moderate Islam is. If we don’t talk about Islam, they’ll just have a negative outlook toward us because they’re just exposed to the dark side, not the enlightened side of Islam.”

Speaking to the group, both the imam and the tour guide complained of discrimination against Arabs in Israel. (In fact, in an interview, Imam Amer said he lived under Israeli occupation, despite being a citizen).

Still, there are hopes for improvement. A two-hour tour wouldn’t fix the longstanding challenges Arabs face in Israel, tour guide Shawkat Amer said — but he hoped that greater Jewish familiarity with Arab-Israelis could help chip away at tensions between the communities.

“I can’t fix the whole world, but even if I do 1 percent of good, it will get better and better,” he said. “The more Jewish people I bring to Arab towns, the happier I’ll be.”

Israel’s tourism industry still hurting from last summer’s conflict


This story originally appeared on The Media Line.

July and August should be peak season for tourism in Israel. From hiking and snorkeling to exploring ancient ruins or camel riding in the desert, Israel has it all. With schools out for summer in the US many families choose to take advantage of Israel’s diverse tourism opportunities and historical offerings including more museums per capita than any other country in the world.

Tourism is one of Israel’s biggest revenue generators bringing in an estimated $11.5 billion in 2013 alone. But since the outbreak of violence between Gaza and Israel last summer tourism has suffered – and local businesses are feeling it.

Located in the center of Jerusalem, along Jaffa Road, the city’s main thoroughfare, is the Holy Bagel. The cafe is no more than a 10 minute walk in either direction from the Old City or the Mahane Yehuda Market – strategically located for tourists and local customers.

“Before the conflict, before the war and everything, we wouldn't have 5 seconds to stop, or even to go to the bathroom,” Esther Chikly, Holy Bagel's owner, told The Media Line.

If you walked into the Holy Bagel now though, you'd notice a different scene. At 12:30 p.m. on one of the busiest days of the week, the shop is nearly empty. Two patrons sit at different tables inside as they quietly enjoy their meals in solitude. Two employees serve a customer as Chikly washes dishes in the back.

“In the summer we usually would have four or five people on a shift,” she reminisced. “Dishes would be piled up. We would be prepping boxes and boxes of vegetables and we'd constantly refill them. That's how busy the store used to be.”

Chikly's business isn't the only one suffering. Just two doors down on what used to be a hectic corner is the Coffee Bean.

Two years ago, before the conflict arose, the coffee shop was making $25,000 more than it is now, according to the owner, Ronen Targeman.

“Last July and August business really went down,” Targeman told The Media Line, while sitting at one of the many vacant tables in his store. “I don't know if it will be good or not this July and August but now in June, it's not the best.”

Tourists are the Coffee Bean's main clientele because they recognize the international name, Targeman said. The franchise has more than 1,000 locations around the world so people from all over come in for a little taste of home, but now it's not the same.

“People are not coming,” Targeman continued. “It’s a big problem. Before at 12:30 all the tables inside would be full and more than half outside too, but here you see the place. And our prices haven't gone up. Other people have raised their prices but I've stayed at the same price.”

Maintaining the price has been a challenge for his business because, like the Holy Bagel, Targeman can't staff as many employees. He schedules far fewer workers per day which has allowed him to avoid firing anyone so far.

2014 had looked like it was going to be one of the best in the country’s history for the tourism industry, Yaron Burgin, manager and part founder of Abraham Hostel, told The Media Line. But following the conflict the second half of the year was one of the worst for visitor numbers.

“Last summer’s war had a massive impact on tourism in Israel (and) the effect was almost immediate,” Burgin said, noting that although no tourists fled home from the popular backpackers' hostel, many who had been planning to come cancelled their bookings. The timing of the conflict, during the peak summer months, and the number of weeks it dragged on for hurt tourism worse than previous conflicts, Burgin said.

In particular the closure of Ben Gurion airport for 24 hours – due to the threat from Hamas rockets – was very damaging because it stuck in tourists' minds months after the summer and made Israel seem more dangerous than it actually is, he explained.

Although a resumption of violence at this time appears unlikely, Burgin suggested that current political pressures are hampering the tourism industry's recovery. “We are a crazy country and we know it – Israel is always being mentioned in the news and not in a good way. It’s not like it was just last year.” The rise of BDS (the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement), terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and negative headlines regarding Israel's conduct during Operation Protective Edge have not helped, the backpacker turned manager added.

The damage from the conflict on the numbers of visitors to Israel was confirmed by Pini Shani, the director of the Overseas Department at the Israeli Tourism Ministry.  Tourism in 2013 did very well despite the year coming only a short time after the outbreak of Operation Cast Lead, a previous round of fighting between Hamas and Israel. This year on the other hand, following last summer's Operation Protective Edge, has not been so sanguine, Shani told The Media Line.

Partly this was due to the length of the fighting during the most recent confrontation with Hamas, Shani said, but also it was because of outside factors. The recession in Russia, a key tourist country, reduced visitor numbers. As has the current instability in the region and the infamy of the Islamic State. Some people are thinking “this is not a good time to visit the Middle East,” Shani concluded.

But this did not leave him pessimistic: “We believe 2016 will be a good year,” he said. Although budget restraints have held the Ministry of Tourism back a number of advertising campaigns and initiatives have been launched to try encourage visitors to return to Israel. Chief among them is the scheduling of Ryanair flights directly from three cities in eastern Europe to Eilat, scheduled to start in the next few months.

The possibility of flights directly to the beach resort town from as little as $35 will bring tourist numbers back up – or at least that is the hope of Shani and his colleagues.

Robert Swift contributed to this article.

The best is yet to come in evolving Israeli tourism


Following a record year for tourism in 2013 — when 3.5 million visitors came to the Holy Land — things got off to an even better start in 2014. More people were on track to visit than ever … until the Gaza war last summer. By year’s end, the overall number of tourists arriving was down 8 percent to 3.25 million. 

Still, Israeli Minister of Tourism Uzi Landau remains confident that the best is yet to come. A member of the Knesset for more than 30 years who has a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he sat down with the Journal at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza hotel Feb. 27 during a trip to Los Angeles. He spoke about the impact of security concerns, emerging trends in tourism and tourism’s overall importance to the State of Israel’s economy. An edited version of that conversation follows.

JEWISH JOURNAL: What do you think the long-term ramifications of the Gaza war will be?

UZI LANDAU: Usually what happens with such wars is that you pay a price for a number of months, and then things do level off. … We had a Gaza war at the end of 2008 and in the beginning of 2009, and the same thing happened — that is, it took some time, but after three to four months, five to six months, things start to pick up again. … Israel is a safe place, where mothers send their kids, first-graders, to school unescorted. And vis à vis all of the events in Paris — is Paris safe? Denmark — is it safe? … Israel is safe. 

JJ: There’s been a growing anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses around here. What do you think this means for young people who may or may not be interested in coming to Israel as a result?

UL: I think that much of these sentiments are based on two things. One is simply misinformation. People simply do not know what is the reality in Israel. They are fed by a world campaign that is being [created] by extreme Muslim elements. In the West, they go hand in hand with extreme radical left people and extreme racial right people joined by classic anti-Semites. We are trying to reach to well-intentioned people. We are hosting many movers and shakers — just to come to Israel and see for their own eyes and then report what they saw. 

JJ: How important is tourism to Israel’s economy?

UL: Tourism is highly important to Israel’s economy. In fact, today it contributes between 2 and 2.2 percent of our GDP [Gross Domestic Product]. But still the potential to be much higher is there. If I just bring, for comparison, France — France enjoys almost 4 percent contribution to GDP. Spain is 5.6 [percent]. We are the Holy Land, something that no other country can provide to any traveler who is interested in religion. I think we are the only country where one who walks there can listen to the language of the Ten Commandments spoken on a regular daily basis. It is a place where kings and empires — ancient ones — have had their footprint, including their cultural creativity, and you can find there today many archaeological excavations. 

JJ: I was going to ask what the next generation of hot spots will be. 

UL: Eco-tourism is already taking place, and agriculture tours are taking place. Cycling is picking up. And bird watching is there — you have hundreds of millions of birds crossing the country through the Syrian-African rift. 

The Dead Sea — this is something that cannot be matched in any other place. Combine that with desert type of hiking, with desert cycling — cycling in Israel is a quickly developing sport where you can do it in the mountainous Galilee, then descend to circulate around the Sea of Galilee, and you can go to the coastal plains and then to the Negev desert, where you can enjoy either hilly areas or flat areas. 

I don’t know what will be the future trends of people — whether we are going to just combine a lot of different types of niches today. You can use your bike to go through wine trails, or an agriculture type of tour, and you can combine that — start and finish your trips in a village to try and see how people of different ethnic backgrounds still live today. You could do this in a Bedouin village, in an Arab village, in a Druze village or in a kibbutz Jewish village. Again, the sky is the limit. 

JJ: I understand you’re retiring. Are you going to travel? You probably know a few good places.

UL: I do. I still do it in Israel. From time to time, I’m also enjoying my time abroad. 

Israeli tourists evacuated from Maldives


Israeli tourists in the Maldives had to be evacuated from the island nation after an Israeli surfer removed an anti-Israel sign placed outside a guest house.

The tourists were evacuated earlier this week from Kaafu Thulusdhoo Island by security services after protesters on the island called for their removal and protesters from other places began converging on the island, according to minivannews.com.

The sign, outside a guest house owned by Mohamed Hashim, featured a swastika next to an Israeli flag. The tourist ripped it in half, according to the report. Hashim told the news service that about 60 percent of the bookings in his guest house are Israelis.

Following the evacuation of the tourists, a protest was held in the Maldives capital of Male, during which an Israeli flag was burned. The protest follows a pro-Palestinian protest held earlier this month in Male, attended by about 13,000 people.

Maldives, which resumed diplomatic relations with Israel in 2009, last week annulled all cooperation agreements signed with Israel and announced a boycott of Israeli products.

Tourism to Israel reaches all-time high


Israel reported an all-time high in annual visitors in 2013.

A record 3.54 million visitors arrived in Israel in 2013, half a percent more than the previous record year. Meanwhile, some 272,000 tourists arrived in December, a 14 percent increase over December 2012, setting a record for most arrivals in the Jewish state in one month.

The figures were released Thursday by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

Nearly 18 percent of tourists arrived from the United States, with some 623,000 Americans visiting. Russia sent 603,000 tourists, and France 315,000.

More than half the tourists, or 53 percent, were Christian; only 28 percent were Jewish.

Overall, tourism contributed about $11.4 billion to the Israeli economy in 2013, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

“The year 2013 is a record year for tourism, and we are proud of that. Despite Operation Pillar of Defense and the security situation in the region, tourists voted with their feet,” said Tourism Minister Uzi Landau.

Haifa a many-faceted jewel


Visiting Americans often compare Haifa with San Francisco for its hilly landscape and trendy, artsy neighborhoods, or Boston for its mix of academia and maritime culture. While this northern Israeli city is a weekend getaway for Jerusalemites and Tel Avivians, Haifa is also worth experiencing as a city of the future, with its expanding international influence as a high-tech center, or as a quaint port town with a rich, 3,000-year history.

Haifa is also a multicultural metropolis, frequently portrayed as a model of coexistence between Arabs and Jews. The third-largest city in Israel, it features six faiths and a variety of ethnic communities living together near the sea.

One of the city’s most popular destinations is the Baha’i Gardens. Located on the northern slope of Mount Carmel, the UNESCO World Heritage site features a staircase of 19 landscaped “hanging gardens” that connect Haifa with the city of Akko, which holds great significance for Baha’is as the final resting place of their prophet, the Báb. The Baha’i Gardens offer awe-inspiring, panoramic views of the city, the Galilean hills and the Mediterranean Sea. 

The Colony Hotel.

Nature lovers may want to head to Dado Beach and Meridian Beach to view rare plants, or venture out on hiking trails along one of the local rivers (Lotem, Si’akh, Ezov and Akhuza). Mount Carmel National Park is Israel’s largest national park, featuring approximately 25,000 acres of pine, eucalyptus and cypress forest.

Planning a trip to Israel around Chanukah? Don’t miss an opportunity to see the city during one of its most vibrant times of year. Extending from Haifa’s Wadi Nisnas neighborhood to the German Colony, the annual Hag Ha Hagim, or Festival of Festivals, is staged every Saturday throughout December. The festival celebrates Judaism, Christianity and Islam through music and dance performances, artistic and cultural events, an arts and crafts fair, and, of course, lots of succulent local food.

Ancient Shiloh: A new stop on the tourist map?


Travis Allen was spending three weeks in 2009 driving around Israel visiting historic sites when he suddenly noticed Shiloh on the map and asked his driver if they could go to the site of the archaeological dig. What Allen, a financial adviser from California who’s making his first run for public office, remembers vividly is what was not there. People.

“I went and there was no one there. There was a little station by a gate. I asked if this is Shiloh where the tabernacle used to stand and I was told, ‘up by the hill.’ I walked up by myself and I had the whole place to myself… It was fantastic. There was a viewing platform and nothing else.”

Nestled in the Judean Hills about a 40 minute drive from Jerusalem and closer to Nablus lies the ancient city of Shiloh, the first home of the Tabernacle, the portable sanctuary that for 369 years was the epicenter of religious observance and sacrifices as the Jewish people traveled in the desert.

Tzofia Dorot, a young, modern and passionate woman dressed in slacks, a kerchief—symbolic of the majority of community living in modern Shiloh—covering her head, guided a group of American and Israeli tourists through the Tel Shiloh archaeological site on a hot summer afternoon. She explained to The Media Line why Shiloh was attracting new visitors.

“People are not afraid today; unlike maybe 10-years ago when the situation was different. Today it’s pretty quiet. Usually, you’re afraid of something you don’t know. So many people didn’t cross the Green Line—Israel’s pre-1967 borders with Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon—for years because they were afraid of getting shot, they were afraid of bombs; and today it’s a great opportunity to learn about this place, the sites and the people,” said Dorot.

“Shiloh doesn’t appear so dangerous to me,” offered Ken Abramowitz, a market analyst from New York who helped put the group together. “Shiloh was the heartland of Israel. About 3200 years ago this was the center of Israel, and unfortunately people have forgotten that. It’s good to remind myself, and I invited ten friends to join us in order to remind them, too.” 

Dorot, who now lives in Kida, a community of fifty families located within the Shiloh bloc overlooking the Jordan Valley, adds that “the people who live in Judea and Samaria are shown by the media through a very narrow pipe. The extremists are on television, the normal people aren’t shown.”

When archaeological digs resumed in 2010, thirty-years had lapsed since the most recent previous work. The visitors led by Dorot saw a Jewish ritual bath (mikveh) from the Second Temple period – and artifacts found when archaeologists discovered an entire room containing piles of broken dishes from the time of the Tabernacle. Dorot explained that because people typically keep their dishes with them, the abundance of broken pottery indicates that the inhabitants left quickly, presumably under duress, in flight.

Further up the hill and part of the most recent digs, archaeologists found the big platform believed to be the resting place of the Tabernacle itself.

“People come to Shiloh because it was the first capital of the Jewish nation, it was a spiritual center where the Tabernacle—housing the ark, the menorah (candelabra), the table, and everything needed to serve God)—was sitting. This is where land was distributed to the tribes by lottery; and this is where Tu B’Av the Jewish love holiday—is celebrated every year on the tenth day of the month of Av,” according to Dorot. 

In February, 2012, the government of Israel declared Tel Shiloh an archeological heritage site, and pumped-in an initial $1.5 million, a portion of the $12 million needed over the next five years. This help enabled the recent digs that uncovered the actual area where the Tabernacle rested. 

Dorot says Shiloh is like a “mini-Jerusalem” without the mess and noise of the big city. “A site that has so many layers and is such a big part of our history should be exposed,” she argued. “Today we have all the layers of the history of Shiloh. Basically, we have the story of the land of Israel.”

The head of the Israel Antiquities Authority agreed to establish at Tel Shiloh the first visitors’ center located inside an archaeological site, set to open this year. The ultra-modern glass and metal structure that is designed to evoke an image “that connects the land to the sky,” stands on bedrock in order not to harm the archaeology. Visitors will go from the stones of archaeology up to the tower where, “The tower will help visitors understand and see what their eyes cannot. The first floor will be for guiding and the second floor will showcase a movie projected onto the special glass walls that can be controlled so that cinema merges with the reality beyond. Dorot promises that, “You’ll see the actors in the area and sometimes you won’t know what is real and what is not.”

The Jewish presence in areas Israel acquired in the 1967 war is widely recognized as a key obstacle to the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. The Palestinians regard the land as their future state, while even many Jewish Israelis are willing to cede the land in return for a genuine peace.

Abramowitz faults the Israeli government for “speaking in a mixed message to its people.” He disdains that, “one government will say ‘Judea and Samaria are ours forever,’ while another says, ‘we don’t really want it, it can be a Palestinian state.’ It confuses the population: both the children and the adults,” he told The Media Line.

Despite the divisive political debate surrounding the future of post-1967 lands; and illustrative of Abramowitz’s point about inconsistent policies of respective governments,  Education Minister Gidon Saar announced in early 2011, a program to bring Israeli schoolchildren to heritage sites located in post-1967 territories – including the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and the ancient city of Shiloh—so that they would know “the historic roots of the State of Israel in the Land of Israel.” 

Marc Prowisor, director of security for Judea and Samaria for One Israel Fund – an advocacy group promoting Jewish ties to post-1967 lands—felt Saar’s initiative was long overdue. Prowisor charged that “it was a crime of all Israeli governments and educational ministries for withholding information from the Israeli public, children and the Jewish people.”

According to Avital Seleh, director of Tel Shiloh, “Two years ago we said it was time to bring Israelis and tourists to Shiloh. 30,000 people have been visiting annually: 50% Israeli and 50% from around the world. A separate program was initiated that brought in young people to participate in the digging so they will remember that they touched Shiloh.” Adding evidence that interest in the area and willingness to travel there is on the rise, Prowisor said referring to an American lobby tied to Israel that advocates ceding post-1967 land to the Palestinians, “Even J-Street recently came.”

Despite the enthusiasm of those associated with Shilo, travel in the territories has apparently not yet become mainstream within Israel’s tourism industry. Nimrod Shafran,  operations manager for Da’at Educational Expeditions, told The Media Line that “A visit to Shiloh was never requested” in the six years he has been working with one of Israel’s foremost tour operators. “The only time I remember adding Shiloh to a program was for a group that included Judea and Samaria in their visit and we took them to Shiloh and a settlement to show them the old and the new.”

Pini Shani, director of the Israel Tourism Ministry’s overseas department told The Media Line that it’s the Evangelical Christian groups who primarily go to visit Shiloh. When asked if anyone has inquired to his desk about Shiloh, his answer was negative.

As the group Ken Abramowitz brought to Shiloh approached the construction site of the new state-of-the-art visitors’ center, participants were surprised to see several Arab workers enjoying a lunch break. Did they have problems with “assisting in excavating Jewish history?”

Dorot offered a story by way of illustration. She said that, “One Arab worker asked me as he was digging, ‘What is this layer and the next layer?’ The deeper we went, he understood that Jewish history is the first layer, then the Christian history, then the Muslim history. I’m proud of all the layers. I think it is great the Muslims wanted to build their mosque here, and the Christians wanted to build their church here. They all came here because the Tabernacle was first standing here. The worker saw it with his eyes,” according to Dorot.

But Prowisor’s take was more reflective of the intensity of the conflict. “In their (Arab) books, there is no Jewish history in Israel,” he argued. “You can’t ignore it. You just see it.” Charging he has “yet to see anything taught in Arab schools about peace with Israel,” Prowisor said “I respect the Arab culture, but expect the same in return.”

Allen, a candidate for the California Assembly, interjected that, “Shiloh belongs to the whole world, not just the Jewish nations. When Christians come here they look through the bible,” a belief Dorot seems to incorporate into her outlook. It also forms part of her answer to the painful question of whether Shiloh will ultimately be ceded to the Palestinians in a future peace deal.

“If I am here now, it’s my job to make sure that the archeology here will be exposed; it’s my job to make sure we have serious research here. I don’t want to lose the artifacts; I want to make sure I write down everything. I think it’s never going to happen, but even if something will change and nobody will be here, I know we did the research, we have the artifacts, I know my roots are deep into this site, we have the history here and nobody can deny it.

In Bulgaria, Israel’s tourism minister vows to continue tourism ties


Israeli Minister of Tourism Stas Misezhnikov traveled to Bulgaria to shore up the relationship between the two countries in the wake of the deadly attack on a bus full of Israeli tourists.

Accompanying Misezhnikov on Monday’s trip were senior representatives of the Israeli tourism industry.

“After what happened in Burgas, we will continue to travel as tourists—in Israel and in Bulgaria, and wherever else we wish,” Misezhnikov said. “We will not reward the terrorist act. We will not react to it with fear.”

The minister attended a memorial service at Burgas Airport and met with the Jewish community in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia. Later he met in the city with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov .

“Bulgaria and Israel are friendly nations, and we will not allow the terrorist attack in Burgas to overshadow our traditionally good ties,” Misezhnikov told Borisov. “Any change in our relations would be a reward for terrorism.”

He said the two countries have a common enemy in Iran.

During the first half of 2012, there was an 11 percent increase in tourists from Bulgaria to Israel as compared to the same time last year. According to data from the Bulgarian Ministry of Tourism, nearly 139,000 Israelis visited Bulgaria in 2011. The same year, more than 8,000 Bulgarian tourists visited Israel.

Wave of Chinese tourists expected


Over 100 million Chinese tourists are expected to be traveling annually by 2020 and one of their preferred destinations is turning out to be the Middle East.

Countries in the region are scrambling to meet the boon as the tourism trade moves to get back on its feet after the lull brought on by the turmoil of the Arab Spring.

At the recent ATM Dubai Tourism Fair it was announced that just last year some 70 million Chinese went abroad. Tourism professionals at the conference emphasized the significance of having tourism industry workers with Chinese language skills, as well as the food and kitchen quality and culture to lure Chinese tourists.

Lucy Chuang, managing director of Global Sino said the Chinese outbound market was being helped by countries being given “approved destination” status by Chinese authorities. The coveted status allows Chinese nationals to travel in groups rather than as individuals.

The UAE received approved destination status in 2009 and more than 300,000 Chinese visited there the following year, spending $334 million, according to MasterCard survey figures. Chuang said Chinese visitors to the UAE have since grown 50 percent annually.

Chuang stated a typical Chinese leisure preference was a three-night package with a different quality hotel for each night and she urged the region to promote this tiered concept to the market, particularly during the off-peak summer season.

Arab Spring unrest took a heavy toll on Middle Eastern tourism last year as unrest erupted in major regional tourism destinations like Tunisia and Egypt as well as Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. While international tourist arrivals grew by 4% worldwide in 2011, in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region they dropped 8.8%, with the worst-hit countries reporting double-digit drops, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

Egypt’s Tourism Minister Mounir Fakhry Abdul Noor said this week that airport fees would be cut and new tourism projects such as eco-tourism were being launched to lure Chinese, as well as Indians, Russians and Japanese.

In Israel, there has been a remarkable increase in the number of Chinese tourists. Last year alone saw a 29% increase over the previous year. While that number was just 17,157 out of over 3 million incoming tourists to Israel, it is growing. In the first quarter of this year, 6,000 Chinese tourists visited Israel, an increase of 14% over last year, Israel’s Tourism Ministry figures show.

“Two years ago we opened an office in Beijing where all it is doing is promoting Israel as a destination,” Pini Shani the head of the Overseas Department at Israel’s Tourism Ministry told The Media Line.

Shani said guides were being trained who spoke to the Chinese in their own language. He said hotels and airport staff were also briefed on how to accommodate and host the Far East visitors.

“It is natural that the Chinese will start to travel. The income in China is growing. They see what is happening in the West and their curiosity is growing to see the outside world,” Shani said.

The UNWTO has predicted that within the next five years China, with a population of some 1.3 billion, will be the number one country in terms of both sending and receiving tourists.

Professionals at the conference in Dubai said that desert safaris and shopping were priorities with designer goods high on the shopping list of the brand-conscious Chinese travelers. They added that while twin-bedded rooms were the number one request, an essential in that room was a kettle to facilitate the preparation of hot instant noodles or rice.

With nearly 485 million Chinese with access to the Internet, they also suggested that effective use of social media and the Internet was essential to tap into the potential Chinese tourist market.

Dubai announced on Monday that it would also be issuing multiple entry visas for Chinese and other tourists who were arriving by cruise ship, thus reducing fees and encouraging more arrivals.

Sean Staunton, vice chairman of Dubai Duty Free, said that while Chinese travelers made up less than 4 percent of the total numbers of visitors, they accounted for 18 percent of the duty-free company’s annual turnover of $1.46 billion. This included 42 percent of watch sales, 32 percent of cosmetics and 20 percent of sunglasses.

The China Tourism Academy said they expected Chinese will spend as much as $80 billion abroad this year. This is amazing considering that outbound Chinese tourists were virtually non-existent just two decades ago. Thanks to their massive population and rising incomes the number of Chinese traveling abroad is expected to continue its rise.

While the bulk of Chinese tourism is headed to the Far East, the Middle East is expected to attract quite a few.

“Israel can offer many things that can’t be found elsewhere,” Shani said, citing the Dead Sea, Christian holy sites and a swank Tel Aviv.

“The Chinese are also very curious of the Jewish brain and can find many examples of it in Israel and we know that their satisfaction rate is very high for tourists that come from China to Israel,” Shani said. “China is one of the sources of growth of tourism to Israel and we will see the results in the coming years.”

Party planning in the Holy Land is just a mouse click away


Planning a bar mitzvah in Israel? The Israeli Ministry of Tourism has just posted a Web site to help you get started: www.bar-mitzvah.org.il. For party purposes, the site is Jerusalem-centric, but it does offer links to fun things to do outside the city.

Considering the daunting task of holding a rite of passage and feeding your guests thousands of miles from home, the site does a good job of letting you know that there are places willing to host you, including the Bible Lands Museum and the Tower of David. While the site provides contact information, including Web sites and phone numbers for some of the more popular Jerusalem venues (though not much information on making a bar mitzvah outside that city), it doesn’t offer many specifics, so write up a checklist before you call or e-mail particular places. Some of your questions might include capacity, price per head, other fees and, if it is important to you or your guests, the specific kosher certification of the venue, since there are many throughout Israel.

The site also provides name of tour operators around the country who can handle the bookings for you — helpful, but you’ll want to ask friends who they used, or at least ask the tour operators to refer you to people who used their services. One family who used a widely known operator was disappointed by his refusal to help them secure a bar mitzvah program on Masada — he claimed that a mountain where people committed suicide didn’t seem right for a bar mitzvah celebration. When speaking with operators, keep in mind whose celebration it is and stand your ground, within reason.

The site does a decent job of listing the most popular locations in Jerusalem for services and parties — but if you’re on a budget, you may need to do some additional research. For example, while the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, listed on the new Web site, can help you plan a bar mitzvah at the Western Wall, a cheaper option — especially if you’ve only got a small group — is to head down to the Wall early on the day of the bar mitzvah and stake your claim to a table and Torah, and then head up to the Jewish Quarter for breakfast at one of several cafés. For names of places to eat, some of which will take reservations, access www.myrova.com.

If you’ve never been to Israel before, or not for a while, use the site’s excellent MP3- and PC-based tours of Jerusalem to get a feel for the city. The virtual tour is especially good. At the very least, you’ll get your bearings a bit faster after you arrive and before you start fielding calls from the guests about the program.

You might be surprised to see that the site includes a link to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, for a bar mitzvah celebration. The synagogue at the complex is beautiful, filled with Torah arks rescued after the Holocaust. Food at Yad Vashem is delicious, and if you think it’s an odd choice for a celebration, consider this: Yad Vashem does not charge admission, so any money you spend there — on catering, or at the gift shop, which offers some lovely favors for guests — offsets costs of this sacred memorial to the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust.

The Web site’s builders certainly know kids, and they’ve included links to attractions such as zip-lines, kayaks and paintball around the country. Be sure to access the “useful information” link, which includes important data such as exchange rates, weather and bus and rail information. (On a recent trip to Israel, though, online schedules for the trains between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv proved unreliable, so you may want to call instead.)

While the hotel portion of the site has almost a dozen choices, it leaves out a couple of upscale ones, including the King David and the David Citadel, and some less expensive but lovely choices, including the new Prima Royale and A Little House in Baka.

Individual tour guides can also help plan a bar mitzvah — ask friends if they’ve used a guide for a trip who they’d recommend. For maximum idea input, you can use the new site as a starting point while working with a guide. Lee Glassman, a veteran guide, says “anything that will encourage folks to come, visit and participate in the only country on earth that was designed, founded and built just for them sounds good to me.”

Since the site is short on bat mitzvah specifics, you might want to consult a new touring company, Tzofiah Tours, which offers ample assistance to families planning a trip for a bat mitzvah. Estie Hershkovits, one of the company’s partners, says they are a specialized tour company focusing on women and education. The guides are all women with experience in formal and informal education, as well as mothers who know what kids enjoy.

“For a bat mitzvah, we combine these interests by studying with the bat mitzvah girl before the trip about a topic of her choice, often connected to Israel,” Hershkovits says. “When she arrives, if she likes, she can choose to present a short skit, or song, or game, or activity at the site itself and share her learning experience with all of her guests.”

For more information, visit Prima Royale or A Little House in Baka.

Francesca Lunzer Kritz is a freelance writer based in Silver Spring, Md.

U.S. Jewish Population Rising; California and Israel Join in Tourism Pact


U.S. Jewish Population Rising?

The new American Jewish Yearbook reports that there are 6.4 million Jews in the United States. That’s significantly more than the 5.2 million figure provided by the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Study.

The yearly survey, published by the American Jewish Committee, is based on a tally of individual Jewish communities across the country. According to the survey, 2.2 percent of the American population is Jewish. New York has the largest Jewish population of any state with 1,618,000, followed by California with 1,194,000, Florida with 653,000 and New Jersey with 480,000, the AJCommittee said in a release.

California and Israel Join in Tourism Pact

The state of California and the state of Israel have jointly established a commission to encourage their citizens to visit each other, proving again that the Golden State is big enough to conduct its own foreign policy. At a recent ceremony at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Isaac Herzog, Israel’s Minister of Tourism, signed an agreement launching the California-Israel Tourism Commission. Both credited Los Angeles-based media mogul Haim Saban for the initiative to establish the commission.

During the ceremony, Schwarzenegger recalled that he has visited Israel three times, first as a body builder, then to open his Planet Hollywood restaurant in Tel Aviv and last year for the groundbreaking of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem.

No breakdown was available on the number of Californians visiting Israel, or Israelis visiting California, however, the latest figures from Israeli tourism officials showed that between January-September of this year, 1.5 million tourists came to Israel, of whom 400,000 were Americans. In 2005, Israel had 2 million visitors, among them 533,000 Americans.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Iran Hosts Holocaust Deniers Conference

The Iranian government held a conference of Holocaust deniers and skeptics this week, a discussion of whether 6 million Jews actually were killed by the Nazis during World War II.

A report in The New York Times quoted the opening speech by Rasoul Mousavi, head of the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s Institute for Political and International Studies, which organized the event, saying that the conference would allow discussion “away from Western taboos and the restriction imposed on them in Europe.”

Speakers at the event include David Duke, the American white-supremacist politician and former Ku Klux Klan leader, and Georges Thiel, a French writer who has been prosecuted in France over his denials of the Holocaust, the Times reported.

— Staff Report

Seattle Rabbi Regrets Xmas Tree Removal

A Chabad rabbi in Seattle expressed regret that his request to add a menorah to the Seattle-Tacoma Airport’s display of Christmas trees resulted in the trees’ removal.

“I am devastated, shocked and appalled at the decision that the Port of Seattle came to,” Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Pacific Northwest said in Monday’s Seattle Times.

Last week, Bogomilsky’s attorney Harvey Grad threatened the port with a lawsuit after not receiving a response to a request, first made in October, to install an 8-foot menorah, which Bogomilsky offered to supply.

Port Commissioner Pat Davis told the Times that the commission had not heard about the request until Dec. 7, the day before Grad was to head to court.

An airport spokesperson said it was decided to take down the trees because the airport, preparing for its busiest season, did not have time to accommodate all the religions that would have wanted a display.

The removal resulted in a firestorm of criticism, much of it directed at Bogomilsky, who said he never wanted to see the trees removed.

Thousands March for Hezbollah

Hundreds of thousands of protesters led by Hezbollah marched in downtown Beirut Sunday to demand that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora either cede some government power to the terrorist group and its allies or resign, The Associated Press reported.

Hezbollah has been pressing for increased power since its war with Israel over the summer. Lebanese troops Sunday sealed off Siniora’s compound, as well as the roads nearby. Siniora and most of his ministers have stayed in the complex since Dec. 1, when Hezbollah launched massive protests aimed at toppling Lebanon’s Western-leaning government.

Senate Approves Red ‘Crystal’

The U.S. Senate certified the Red “Crystal,” paving the way for Magen David Adom’s acceptance into the International Red Cross’ bodies. The Red Cross approved the symbol which resembles a playing card diamond earlier this year, ending a decades-long shutout of non-Muslim and non-Christian groups such as Israel’s first responder, which rejected using the Red Cross and Red Crescent symbols as inappropriate. The Red Cross had also rejected the Star of David symbol used by MDA.

The Senate’s certification last Friday, the last day of Congress, protects the symbol’s copyright and follows similar legislation passed last week in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Israeli Hostages Said Wounded

Two Israeli soldiers held by Hezbollah since July were seriously wounded during their capture, security sources said. Israeli security sources last week quoted a declassified military report that said bloodstains and other evidence gathered at the site of the July 12 border raid in which Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were seized showed the hostages were seriously wounded.

To survive, the sources said, the two army reservists would have required immediate medical attention, something that may not have been available in the custody of the Lebanese terrorist group.

Hezbollah has refused to provide information on the captives’ condition, saying it would only release them as part of a swap for Arabs held in Israeli jails. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ruled out a swap on Hezbollah’s terms unless the terrorist group provides information on the soldiers’ health. The captives’ families criticized the release of forensic details from the raid.

“I think this may be an attempt by the Prime Minister’s Office to lower pressure to get the kidnapped soldiers freed,” Regev’s brother, Benny, told Israel Radio.

Jaffa flea market offers bargains and co-existence


A young woman from Tel Aviv made her way past tapestries, bracelets and scarves toward a row of brightly hued polyester shirts. She admired a blue button-down with white polka dots before flitting away like a butterfly into a narrow arcade of the Jaffa Flea Market.

“There is magic here,” said 25-year-old Dikla Delugathc, a regular visitor to this bargain-hunters’ haven in Jaffa, one of Israel’s — and the world’s — oldest cities.

The magic of the Jaffa Flea Market derives from both its past and present. The market began as a small bazaar in the mid-19th century. It is a rare remnant of the old Middle Eastern way of life in this modern Jewish country. But the market is also a place where Jews and Muslims work side by side as neighbors and friends.

I visited the market this month on a trip sponsored by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism. The agency brought a handful of journalists to the Jewish state in an effort to combat the current tourism slump, which had worsened since the war with Hezbollah this summer. Only 25,000 Americans visited Israel last month, representing a 25 percent drop from last year.

We had come to Jaffa, a port city in southern Tel Aviv, to explore its ancient history. Jaffa is about 4,000 years old, and the Bible mentions it as the port from which the prophet Jonah sailed before being swallowed by the whale. King Solomon transported through Jaffa the cedars he used to construct the Temple in Jerusalem.

Some say Jaffa derives from yafeh, Hebrew for beautiful; others say it comes from Noah’s son Japhet, who, as legend has it, built the city after the Flood.
The Jaffa Flea Market sits to the east of a clock tower in the city’s center. It is open every day but Saturday from about 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Along the market’s main street, Olei Zion, antique dealers sell furniture and rugs from hole-in-the-wall shops.

On this particular day, a group of old men played cards on the sidewalk; Jews wrapped in tallit and tefillin led afternoon prayers from a tapestry store; and a grifter slid cards around on a cardboard box, attempting to lure passersby into placing bets.

The market extends onto side streets and winds into covered alleys, or arcades, where shoppers walk through narrow passageways, navigating a sea of clothing, jewelry and trinkets.

Inside an arcade, Ronit Raz, 47, picked up a string of decorative bells and gave it a rattle.

The market “gives you a sense of traveling back in time,” said Raz, who drove half an hour to Jaffa from her home near Kfar Saba.

A group of Delta flight attendants stood nearby, chatting about their purchases: a table runner and some pillow covers. A couple of the women sipped pomegranate juice purchased from a nearby drink stand, which blasted American music. (Of all the songs one might expect in the Holy Land, who would guess the Black Eyed Peas’ sexy hit, “My Humps”?)

David Desire Dahan, a Jewish antique dealer, strolled through an outdoor square when a vendor solicited his advice.

“What is this?” the vendor asked in Hebrew, showing him a small silver plate.
Dahan turned the plate upside down. “It’s Mexican silver,” he said.

Dahan recently opened a large furniture store at the market, where he had for sale a set of French chairs and a sofa from the time of Louis XIV and a $5,000 mother-of-pearl inlaid cabinet from Syria.

On a break from business, Dahan, 62, walked past the blankets piled with old watches and computer parts, through the sound of chitchat and the smell of cigarette smoke and incense.

Suddenly, his face lit up. Dahan walked over to a man in a black knit hat and thrust his arm around him.

“This,” Dahan said, patting the Muslim man on the shoulder, “is one of my best friends.”

Such scenes of religious co-existence are commonplace here. Jewish vendors wearing kippahs sit beside Israeli Arabs. They play cards together, joke with one another. One shop sells the traditional Arabic kaffiyeh headscarf; another sells Star of David pendants. Even observant Muslims and religious Jews live, work and play together in Jaffa.

In a carpet shop on Pinkas Ben-Yair Street, a religious Jew, Rami Sinay, had just finished putting on tefillin. Beside him stood his Muslim partner, Hussein Ali.

“We’ve known each other for 20 years,” said Sinay, 27.

“Here, Muslims and Jews have no problem,” he added. “Because we live together in Jaffa, we know everybody’s the son of God.”

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

How to Bargain Effectively at an Israeli Flea Market


Israeli antique dealer David Desire Dahan said he has traveled to Africa, Turkey, Russia, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and more in search of antiques. He claims to have once sold a Stradivarius cello to a museum for $1 million. Here are his tips:

  • Talk to the person selling the goods. See if he’s a good man, if you can trust him.
  • Find an item that resembles something you own and ask how much it costs. You know how much you bought it for.
  • Collect the same type of things, made from the same material, in the same time period. Then you’ll have a beautiful collection at the end of your life.
  • Buy silver or antique jewelry, not large, expensive items like furniture. Collect big things only if you have a big house and a big pocket.
  • Don’t argue with a salesman over the price, but do bargain. If a seller asks for $100, start negotiating at around $60. If you offer much less than the seller asks — $20, for example — it might be taken as an insult.
  • Go with someone in the know, who speaks the language and is familiar with the flea market. When a seller sees a tourist, he typically asks for a higher price.
  • Contact a seller in advance. If you’re looking for a specific item, ask a seller whether he can find it for you. If you e-mail me about something you want, I’ll find it. Give me two weeks, and I’ll send you a picture and price by e-mail.

Dahan can be reached via e-mail at liordahan79@hotmail.com.

— SPB

Noteworthy sessions and events at the G.A.


SUNDAY, NOV. 12
10 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Tour of the Skirball Cultural Center
Note: Tour leaves from Westin Bonaventure and returns to the L.A. Convention Center.

2:30 p.m.
Opening Plenary: “One People, One Destiny, One Great Day in November”
Greetings: L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
Keynote Speaker: Israel Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni

4:30 p.m.-5:45 p.m.
Breakout Session: “We Are Not Alone: Allies in Making the Case for Israel”
Speakers: Joe Hicks, vice president of Community Advocates, Inc., and former executive director of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission; Randy Neal, California regional director, Christians United for Israel; and Nancy Coonis, superintendent of Secondary Schools for the L.A. Archdiocese

4:30 p.m.-5:45 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Jewish Learning: Activism and Social Justice”
Speaker: Rabbi Miriyam Glazer of the University of Judaism

MONDAY, NOV. 13
8:30 a.m.-9:45 a.m.
Plenary: “The Jewish Future: Where We Are as a People”
Moderator: Dr. Beryl Geber, associate executive vice president of policy development, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los AngelesSpeakers: Rabbi Norman Cohen, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; Dr. Arnold Eisen, chancellor-elect of the Jewish Theological Seminary; and Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University in New York

10:15 a.m.-11:30 a.m.
Plenary: “Emerging Global Realities and the Challenge of Radical Islam”
Speakers: Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International; and Bernard-Henri Lévy, author of “Who Killed Daniel Pearl?” and “American Vertigo: Traveling in the Footsteps of Tocqueville”

2:15 p.m.-3:30 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Media Lessons Learned From the War”

Speakers: Aviv Shir-On, deputy director general for media and public affairs, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Jeffrey Goldberg, New Yorker staff writer and author, “Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide;” and Irit Atsmon, former Deputy IDF spokesman

2:15 p.m.-3:30 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Anti-Zionism as the New Anti-Semitism”
Moderator: Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center
Speakers: Steven Emerson, executive director of The Investigative Project; Aviva Raz-Shechter, director, Department of Anti-Semitism & Holocaust Issues, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Charles Small, director, Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism, Yale University

3:45 p.m.-5 p.m.
Plenary: “Challenges of the Jewish People at the Beginning of the 21st Century”
Speaker: Likud Chairman and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Dr. Irwin Cotler, Canadian MP

8:15 p.m.- 10 p.m.
Event: “A Once in a Lifetime Evening at Walt Disney Concert Hall”

Background: The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles and the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music will co-host a concert of Jewish music at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The program will include selections by Leonard Bernstein and Kurt Weill. Performers include Theodore Bikel, Leonard Nimoy, Cantor Alberto Mizrahi, an 85-member chorus and members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, led by conductor Gerard Schwarz.

TUESDAY, NOV. 14
8:30 a.m.-10 a.m.
Plenary: “Challenges and Opportunities: Israel 2006”
Moderator: Judge Ellen M. Heller, president, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Speakers: Israel Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog and Israel Education Minister Yuli Tamir
Special Guest: Moshe Oofnik, Sesame Street Workshop

2:30 p.m.-4 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Understanding Islam: Current Trends”
Speakers: Menahem Milson, professor of Arabic studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and chairman of The Middle East Media Research Institute; Norman Stillman, professor and chair of Judaic history, University of Oklahoma; Irshad Manji, author, “The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith”

2:30 p.m.-4 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Working to Save Darfur”
Speakers: John Fishel, president, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, co-founder, Jewish World Watch; and Ruth Messinger, president/executive director, American Jewish World Service

4:15 p.m.-5:45 p.m.
Plenary: “The New Frontlines: Facing the Future Together”
Keynote Speaker: Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert

WEDNESDAY, NOV. 15
8:30 a.m.-Noon
Meeting: “Translating the GA Into Action: Open Board of Trustees & Delegate Assembly Forum”
Goal: Coming up with an action plan based on issues addressed at GA.

The Roots of an Israel Marathon


Some people raise money for Israel, other people visit Israel, and still others look for a unique way to support the country, like Eat4Israel. Now a new group of local athletes wants to Run for Israel, in Israel. A marathon, to be precise.”Roots Marathon” is starting their training program this summer, inviting people of different faiths to run the 30th Tiberias Marathon or 10k in Northern Israel next winter.

The 10-day tour, from Dec. 30-Jan. 11, will take the group from Tel Aviv to Haifa to Acrw and Safed, to the Galilee and Golan Heights, stopping off along the way at religious and historical sites, like a Bahai Shrine, a site of Christian miracles and, of course, a Jewish holy city.

“When you train for a marathon you bring people close together, and this is a way to bridge different religious faiths,” said Dan Witzling, a long-time Jewish activist and marathon runner who is co-organizing the trip.

The other organizer, Avner Hofstein, is the West Coast correspondent for Yediot Achronot, Israel’s largest newspaper. He wanted to show people a different Israel.

“Israel is a lively place filled with fun, sports and action, very different from the action in which it is portrayed in the news,” said Hofstein, who has been based in Los Angeles for the last four years.

Roots has been coordinated by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, and The Israeli Consulate of Los Angeles, Board of Rabbis of Southern California and Interfaith Environment Council of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life/Southern California all support the marathon effort.

Is running 26.2 miles a lot to run to see and support Israel? Hofstein gives it a historical spin: “If the Jews walked 40 years in the desert, they won’t mind running 26 miles, or much less, a 10k.”

For more information contact: www.rootsmarathon.com.

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Northern Israeli Hotels Feel the Pinch


With the fighting along Israel’s northern border showing no sign of letting up, Israel’s most popular summer tourist region has been turned into a battle zone.
Instead of the sounds of kids splashing in swimming pools and canyons, there is a constant booming of artillery shelling and tank fire. Instead of birds quietly hovering in the skies over the Hula Nature Reserve, attack helicopters and fighter jets streak across the sky headed north, into Lebanon.

And instead of hotels in Haifa, Tiberias and Rosh Pina packed with tourists, hoteliers are shutting down operations and turning off the electricity, with a whisper and prayer for peace — and the return of tourists.

“Until this operation is over, we won’t see anyone here, and I can’t say how much time after the war it will take to return to the routine,” said Moshik Givaty, manager of the Rosh Hanikra Tourist Center, on Israel’s Mediterranean coast next to the Lebanese border.

The center, which includes grottos, a cable car, restaurant and historical sites, usually draws 35,000 visitors in July and August. This year it was shut down on the morning of July 12 — shortly after Hezbollah precipitated the crisis by killing eight soldiers and kidnapping two in a cross-border raid — by order of the Israel Defense Forces, which has commandeered much of Rosh Hanikra for military operations.

“Rosh Hanikra is in the conflict zone, and we must be in secured rooms or bunkers,” Givaty explained.

Unless the fighting ends soon, he warned, the summer will be a complete loss.
All across northern Israel, the resorts, hotels and bed and breakfasts that normally are full this time of year are closed or virtually empty.

“We’ve unplugged the fridges and shut off the electricity,” said Yoela Shany, who owns Siesta vacation cottages in Ramot, in the Golan Heights. “This never happened before.”

Dozens of bed and breakfasts in Ramot, a popular vacation village, have been left empty. Three Katyusha rockets have landed in or near town, but so far none has caused casualties or major property damage.

Many hotels in Haifa have closed their doors, and those that remain open have been able to do so only because of the influx of journalists in town.
“Everything fell apart in the second half of the month,” said Shimon Cohen, general manager of Haifa’s Nof Hotel. “For August, we are almost at a 0 percent occupancy rate.”

Tourism in the rest of the country is mostly holding up, but tourism workers all over Israel are worried that their livelihoods may be devastated if the fighting drags on. That, in turn, could wreak havoc on the economy as a whole.

“The situation is very fluid,” said Yonatan Pulik, spokesman for the Tourism Ministry. “There are no significant cancellations on incoming tourists from abroad — yet. Of course, there is damage to internal tourism, particularly in the north.”

There are no statistics available yet, Pulik said, though 2006 had looked like a banner year for tourism in Israel — until three weeks ago.

The economic impact on Israel’s tourism industry already has run into the millions of dollars, but the damage may be limited if the fighting ends quickly.
Tourist industry professionals in places like Jerusalem and Eilat say they’re making up for any cancellations with extra business from people leaving northern Israel — both Israelis and tourists rearranging their itineraries to avoid the conflict zone.

Jamie Salter, a licensed tour guide in Jerusalem, said the conflict’s impact on tourism goes both ways: Some tour guides are making up for canceled gigs by picking up the appointments of fellow Israeli tour guides who have been called away to military reserve duty.

Hoteliers say they haven’t yet suffered the wave of cancellations they saw during the worst years of the intifada, but they warn things will quickly get bad if the fighting doesn’t end soon.

“The situation is stable,” said Rodney Sanders, general manager of Jerusalem’s Inbal Hotel. “We have cancellations for the month of July, but there is also pickup from the Jewish organizations that have come to support Israel in this situation.”

In the southern resort town of Eilat, the fighting hundreds of kilometers away might as well be in a different country — except for the northerners who have gone to Eilat to escape the war.

“We are almost entirely full,” said Eytan Loewenstein, spokesman for Isrotel Hotels, which has more than half a dozen hotels in Eilat. “This is normal for July-August, when it is high season for hotels in Eilat. Even if there were a few empty rooms, they’ve been taken up by people arriving from central and northern Israel.”

By comparison, he noted, the Isrotel-owned Carmel Forest Spa Resort, near Haifa, is at 25 percent occupancy at a time of year when it normally is full.
“This is supposed to be the high season, and everything’s empty,” lamented Sara Shavit, who along with her husband owns the Shavit Guest House in Moshav Arbel, just north of Tiberias. “We are in a serious problem. We have no other source of income.”

News Briefs from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency


Technion Gets $25 Million Gift From Californian

A California philanthropist has donated $25 million to the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. The gift from Lorry Lokey, founder and chairman of Business Wire, will be used to create a new combined life sciences and engineering center. The money came through the New York-based American Technion Society, which has raised more than $1.2 billion since its inception in 1940. “I feel that Israel has in the Technion an asset as valuable as MIT and Cal Tech combined,” Lokey said.

Technion Professor Aaron Ciechanover, a who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2004, will head the center.

U.S. Teachers Union Backs Israel

A major U.S. teachers union passed a pro-Israel resolution. Passed July 21 at the biennial convention of the American Federation of Teachers in Boston, the resolution supports Israel’s right to defend itself and condemns the “bombings, killings and kidnappings by Hezbollah and Hamas that precipitated the current crisis.”

The resolution also calls for the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, which demands that Hezbollah be disarmed and calls for negotiations leading to a cease-fire.

Initiative Aims to Boost Israeli Tourism

A major U.S. Jewish umbrella group launched an initiative to bolster tourism to Israel during the conflict with Hezbollah.

The program, launched by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, allows tourists to place reservations, which will be valid for up to a year, in northern Israeli hotels and kibbutzim. It is intended to provide a “continuing stream” of income to Israeli tourism and the people who work in that industry, the group’s executive vice chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein, said Monday in a conference call with reporters.

Israel’s Hotel Association and the Tourism Ministry are participating in the effort, in cooperation with the Prime Minister’s Office and the Gaza Development Authority.

Jewish Lawmakers Honor Israeli Air Force

Several members of the U.S. House of Representatives attended a July 19 gathering honoring the Israel Air Force Center, an Israeli nonprofit that promotes ties between the Israeli air force and the international community.”There are difficult days ahead for Israel,” said Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo). “I can’t tell you how profoundly grateful we are to the Israeli air force for what it does 24 hours a day. Members of Congress who are friends of Israel are honored and privileged to do our little bit to assist.”

Other Jewish members attending included Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) and Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles).

Saudis Warn of War

Saudi Arabia said Israeli actions could bring about a Middle East war.”Saudi Arabia warns everybody that if the peace option fails because of Israeli arrogance, there will be no other option but war,” Saudi King Abdullah was quoted as saying Tuesday, in reference to Israel’s offensives in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

Saudi Arabia championed a 2002 regional peace proposal under which Israel would be recognized by the Arab world if it gave up territories captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and allowed a “right of return” for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Israel rejected the preconditions, which are seen as demographic suicide for the Jewish state. The chief of Israel’s military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday that Syria had put its armed forces on high alert and that there was concern in Jerusalem that it could “misread the situation” an apparent reference to Syrian fears that it could come under attack from Israeli or U.S. forces.

Turkey Would Consider Lebanon Role

Turkey would consider a role in a stabilization force in southern Lebanon. “If and when called upon, we will be giving positive consideration to whichever way we contribute, including the stabilization force,” said Burak Akcapar, a counselor at the Turkish Embassy in Washington. Turkey is to play a prominent role at talks in Rome on Wednesday hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice aimed at ending the Israel-Lebanon crisis. Akcapar said it was too early to consider whether Turkey would take a leading role in such a force, but noted that Turkey had successfully led such forces in recent years in the Balkans and Afghanistan. “We have a major stake in maintaining stability in the region,” he said.

Ukrainians Hold Pro-Israel Rallies

Demonstrators in two Ukrainian cities rallied in a show of support for Israel. An estimated 2,000 people, some of them carrying Israeli flags and banners reading “Stop the Terror,” “Yes, Israel” and “Ukraine and Israel Together” demonstrated Monday in Kiev.

Israeli Ambassador Naomi Ben-Ami, the chief rabbis of Ukraine, and Jewish and Christian leaders took part in the rally. Also Monday, some 1,500 people attended a rally in support of Israel in the city of Dnepropetrovsk.

In a related development, Alexander Feldman, a Jewish member of Ukraine’s Parliament, collected some 50 signatures from lawmakers on a petition urging the Ukrainian leadership to publicly support Israel in the current conflict.Last week, hundred of demonstrators rallied in Kiev and some other Ukrainian cities to protest Israel’s military operation against Hezbollah.

Poll: Canadians Back Israel

Almost two-thirds of Canadians see Israel’s military action in Lebanon as completely or somewhat justified, according to a new poll.

A survey conducted for the CanWest News Service and Global National found that 64 percent of Canadians are sympathetic to the goals of Israel’s counterattack against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Sixty-three percent of the 1,023 Canadians polled said that if any side should be required to make a major compromise to attain a cease-fire, it should be “those who kidnapped the Israeli soldiers.”

Israeli Children Get Donated Toys

Children in northern Israel received toys donated from North America. Canadian philanthropist Gerry Schwartz and his wife, Heather Riesman, along with the Toys “R” Us chain, donated toys worth approximately $50,000 to children in the northern Israeli towns of Nahariya and Shlomi.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The Road to Recovery


When you think of victims of Middle East unrest, tour guides are probably not the first to come to mind. But Amir Orly knows of two who committed suicide in the last couple years. Others have left the country or taken odd jobs — anything to make ends meet.

Business for tour guides in Israel collapsed in 2000, amid the violence of the second intifada, which between 2000 and 2005 took the lives of about 1,000 Israelis and more than 3,000 Palestinians. About 50 foreign citizens also died, but mostly, they have just stayed away.

“It was at least a 90 percent drop-off of tourists,” Orly said. “There was no hope. A friend of one of my friends became a gardener. Some turned to become teachers. Each person found his own way, but a lot went unemployed. People were going all directions.”

As our van of visiting American journalists hurtled down Highway 443 between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, I wondered: Did the skittish tourists more or less have it right? If people are going to be shooting at you or trying to blow you up, what’s so bad about diverting to the Magic Kingdom instead — at least until the bombers get inside Tomorrowland, too?

Orly, a fit, handsome man in his 50s, was better off than many. The Ministry of Tourism’s favorite son, he often gets called when VIPs need care — including the Dalai Lama and William Shatner — he’s that good. Even so, he said, “there were many months where I would not work even once.”

He took advantage of being suddenly “rich with time,” as he put it, teaching and pursuing his doctorate (on the sanctification of Jerusalem) — and relying on his wife’s salary to get the family through.

Any downturn of visitors matters deeply for Israel, because tourism is the nation’s second leading industry behind high-tech. A healthy economy and anything less than double-digit unemployment is indefinitely out of reach without healthy tourism. Which is why the Ministry of Tourism provided Orly’s services recently to this group of journalists from U.S. Jewish newspapers visiting Israel for a week. The government wants the word spread that Israel is back — once again ready for its close-up. After all, they insist, there’s still lots to see, and Israel needs your tourist dollars. (That last point, of course, is the tribal appeal to duty and solidarity.)

Orthodox Lobbyist in Eye of Ethics Storm


 

Missions to Israel are a staple of Jewish organizations, but when Pepe Barreto leads a group tour there in August, it’ll represent something new.

Barreto is perhaps the most popular drive-time host on Spanish-language radio in Los Angeles and a major player in a new drive to boost travel to Israel among California Latinos.

The campaign is a key part of a program outlined by Daniela Aharoni, the recently arrived director of the Israel Government Tourist Office for the Western United States. With Hispanics/Latinos making up nearly half the population of Los Angeles County and one-third of the state, this demographic will be of ever-growing importance in the years to come.

“We have found that Latinos are free-spending tourists, with a strong religious interest in the Holy Land,” said Aharoni, sitting in her office with an expansive view of midtown Los Angeles.

Aharoni served previously as deputy director of the Israel tourist office here from 1994-98, and she has been amazed at the rising influence and economic status of Latinos during the intervening seven years.

While American Jews remain Aharoni’s main clientele, she is also putting increased effort into attracting the Christian community.

“If we can convince the pastor of a church to go, his congregants will follow him,” said Aharoni, who is now organizing specially tailored seminars and promotional material for pastors and ministers.

Next year, Aharoni plans to explore the possibility of increasing tourism from the large Korean community in Southern California.

Her jurisdiction includes 13 Western states, Alaska and Hawaii among them, and she acknowledged that it’s tougher to sell Israel tourism in her territory than in the Northeast and Midwest.

“You have a much longer travel time to begin with, and Israeli sunshine isn’t that much of a selling point to people in California or Arizona,” she said.

After a near-disastrous slump in tourism to Israel during the past four years of the intifada, the statistics are beginning to look better. In 2000, the last “normal” year, a record-breaking 2.7 million tourists arrived in Israel. Two years later, the figure had plummeted to 206,000, rising to 379,000 for 2004.

The upswing is continuing, with figures in January and February of this year in the key North American market showing a 15 percent to 20 percent improvement over the same months last year. If the general Middle East situation doesn’t worsen drastically, Israel expects a total of 1.7 million tourists in 2005, 1.9 million in 2006 and 2.1 million in 2007.

Despite the gloom of the intifada years, Israel has been busy improving its tourism infrastructure and added a host of new attractions, Aharoni said. Off the top of her head, she reeled off the Davidson Center and archaeological park near the Western Wall, a new Yad Vashem historical museum, Israel Park in Latrun, Palmach Museum in Tel Aviv and Begin Museum in Jerusalem. There’s also easier access to Masada and new facilities and projects in Sefad, Tiberias, Akko and Eilat.

Aharoni’s office will trumpet Israel’s old and new attractions at the May 15 Israel Independence Day festival in Woodley Park in Van Nuys. A week later, on May 22, Eilat will join 20 other Los Angeles sister cities at a fair at the Page Museum gardens, next to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Aharoni hopes that the easing last month of the U.S. State Department warning against travel to Israel will further encourage tourism from the United States.

Aharoni’s father arrived in Israel as a youngster from northern Iran, near the Kurdistan border. The tourist office director, who was born in Jerusalem, regrets that she didn’t learn Farsi (she’s picking up Spanish), but is now learning how to cook Persian-style.

After army service, Aharoni studied at Hebrew University and Israel’s official School of Tourism. She first joined the Ministry of Tourism in 1988 and has been working in the tourism field since, both for the government and in the private sector.

“Tourism is absolutely vital to Israel and its economy,” she said. “For every additional 100,000 visitors, 4,000 new service jobs are created.”

For information about Israel tourism, call (323) 658-7463 or visit www.goisrael.com.

 

Israel Tourism Drive Focuses on Latinos


Missions to Israel are a staple of Jewish organizations, but when Pepe Barreto leads a group tour there in August, it’ll represent something new.

Barreto is perhaps the most popular drive-time host on Spanish-language radio in Los Angeles and a major player in a new drive to boost travel to Israel among California Latinos.

The campaign is a key part of a program outlined by Daniela Aharoni, the recently arrived director of the Israel Government Tourist Office for the Western United States. With Hispanics/Latinos making up nearly half the population of Los Angeles County and one-third of the state, this demographic will be of ever-growing importance in the years to come.

“We have found that Latinos are free-spending tourists, with a strong religious interest in the Holy Land,” said Aharoni, sitting in her office with an expansive view of midtown Los Angeles.

Aharoni served previously as deputy director of the Israel tourist office here from 1994-98, and she has been amazed at the rising influence and economic status of Latinos during the intervening seven years.

While American Jews remain Aharoni’s main clientele, she is also putting increased effort into attracting the Christian community.

“If we can convince the pastor of a church to go, his congregants will follow him,” said Aharoni, who is now organizing specially tailored seminars and promotional material for pastors and ministers.

Next year, Aharoni plans to explore the possibility of increasing tourism from the large Korean community in Southern California.

Her jurisdiction includes 13 Western states, Alaska and Hawaii among them, and she acknowledged that it’s tougher to sell Israel tourism in her territory than in the Northeast and Midwest.

“You have a much longer travel time to begin with, and Israeli sunshine isn’t that much of a selling point to people in California or Arizona,” she said.

After a near-disastrous slump in tourism to Israel during the past four years of the intifada, the statistics are beginning to look better. In 2000, the last “normal” year, a record-breaking 2.7 million tourists arrived in Israel. Two years later, the figure had plummeted to 206,000, rising to 379,000 for 2004.

The upswing is continuing, with figures in January and February of this year in the key North American market showing a 15 percent to 20 percent improvement over the same months last year. If the general Middle East situation doesn’t worsen drastically, Israel expects a total of 1.7 million tourists in 2005, 1.9 million in 2006 and 2.1 million in 2007.

Despite the gloom of the intifada years, Israel has been busy improving its tourism infrastructure and added a host of new attractions, Aharoni said. Off the top of her head, she reeled off the Davidson Center and archaeological park near the Western Wall, a new Yad Vashem historical museum, Israel Park in Latrun, Palmach Museum in Tel Aviv and Begin Museum in Jerusalem. There’s also easier access to Masada and new facilities and projects in Sefad, Tiberias, Akko and Eilat.

Aharoni’s office will trumpet Israel’s old and new attractions at the May 15 Israel Independence Day festival in Woodley Park in Van Nuys. A week later, on May 22, Eilat will join 20 other Los Angeles sister cities at a fair at the Page Museum gardens, next to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Aharoni hopes that the easing last month of the U.S. State Department warning against travel to Israel will further encourage tourism from the United States.

Aharoni’s father arrived in Israel as a youngster from northern Iran, near the Kurdistan border. The tourist office director, who was born in Jerusalem, regrets that she didn’t learn Farsi (she’s picking up Spanish), but is now learning how to cook Persian-style.

After army service, Aharoni studied at Hebrew University and Israel’s official School of Tourism. She first joined the Ministry of Tourism in 1988 and has been working in the tourism field since, both for the government and in the private sector.

“Tourism is absolutely vital to Israel and its economy,” she said. “For every additional 100,000 visitors, 4,000 new service jobs are created.”

For information about Israel tourism, call (323) 658-7463 or visit www.goisrael.com

Brand Israel


 

What do you think about when you hear the word Israel?

Chances are if you’re like most Americans, when you hear Israel, you think war. Ask most Americans to free-word associate with the word “Israel” and they’d probably say: terrorists, Palestinians, danger and conflict.

At best.

At worst, oppression and ethnic cleansing.

But there are people out there who are trying to change that.

One of them is Larry Weinberg, executive vice president of Israel 21c, a California-based media advocacy group that tries to promote Israel “beyond the conflict,” its Web site says. On the site (www.Israel21c.com) are articles primarily about technology, health and business — anything but the conflict.

“Our modern brand is in trouble,” Weinberg told a group of Los Angeles Jewish leaders who gathered last week to discuss branding and advocacy on Israel at the Israeli consulate.

The brand he talks about, of course, is Israel. In America, “Israel is better known than liked,” Weinberg said, referring to a recent Young & Rubicam survey that measured Israel as a brand, to discover people’s emotional attachment to it.

Mainstream Americans — especially college students — have a lot of emotions toward Israel; attachment is another story. Weinberg’s point: Change the subject.

“The ‘Israel-Palestine Conflict’ is a no-win hasbara war,” said businessman Jonathan Medved, the main speaker of the morning. “Whoever sets the terms of the debates wins. If we continue to argue only on this turf, then even the best ‘ambassador’ is doomed to failure.”

This message wasn’t exactly popular with some meeting participants, who spend much of their time on campus battling pro-Palestinian groups and engaged in the hasbara, or advocacy, wars.

But, if you accept Medved and Weinberg’s logic, what is a pro-Israel advocate to do?

They do not advise putting all the advocates out of business. They do believe in changing the mix — taking the focus off the conflict.

Medved is the founder and general partner of Israel Seed Partners, an Israel-focused venture capital fund of $262 million. In 2004, he said, $1.46 billion was invested in Israel (up 45 percent from 2003), with 55 percent of the total dollars invested from outside Israel.

Of course foreign investment is good for Israel; and it also may profit investors, as well. After all, Israel is a hotbed of technology, creating everything from computer chips to voice technology.

But can changing the subject from the conflict to technology really help?

Medved said it reaches out to core constituencies in America.

“It speaks to Jews, makes them proud and mobilizes them,” he said, noting that a technology pitch also appeals to Christians, the Asian community and the business community.

The concept, of course, is to appeal to Americans’ self-interest, be it business, health or technology, and have them associate Israel with those concepts.

How will this help, though, on campus, where the battle is about the conflict?

Medved has one word: Divestment. He tells a story about a meeting at Carnegie Mellon University on how to divest from Israel. One student stood up and said something to the effect of, “Wait a minute. Do you mean I have to stop using my computer? My credit card? My voice mail? Forget it!”

The point is: Americans are too invested in Israel to divest. Consider that Teva pharmaceuticals is the largest distributor of generic pills in America, or that most laptops contain a chip produced in Israel — it wouldn’t be easy to boycott Israeli products. (Although, as someone at the meeting pointed out, divestment could target specific industries, like the military. And just targeting tourism could have a devastating effect.)

It’s not only about defending against divestment, Medved said. It’s about encouraging investment before the subject becomes divestment.

Medved advocates hosting investment lectures at business schools, science schools. Forget the social sciences, he said.

Israel certainly is about more than the conflict. It’s about great food, innovative art, cutting-edge music; it has pioneered in fields of democracy, religion and the judicial system (although it certainly has farther to go on all these fronts).

Would an American form a better opinion of Israel after learning that Israeli technology produced his computer chip or provided her affordable medicine or developed their uncle’s artificial heart or manufactured my cheap Gap clothing? (OK that last one’s not technology, but it’s important to me.)

I don’t know.

The truth is — and I suspect Medved and Weinberg would agree — the conflict in Israel is the elephant in the room that must be addressed. And the peace process is the best hope Israel has for improving its image.

On the other hand, people are tired of hearing about the conflict. And Israel is about so much more than the struggle. So a campus event addressing another subject — from Israel’s venture-capital opportunities to Israeli films — might not alter perceptions, but it could inspire a second look or a deeper one. It might make someone willing to listen.

 

Israel Taps Into Interfaith Tourism


 

As Israeli tourism officials focus on their main demographic with seven new tourism DVDs targeting Christian churches, 233 people will travel to Israel on Dec. 20 for the Los Angeles Jewish community’s 10-day, post-Chanukah Mega-Mission. The number falls short of the 400 Jewish tourists who were expected to go, with the drop-off partly due to the Orthodox Union’s (OU) convention last month in Israel.

“There were many conflicts that ran into it; the OU conference certainly was one of them,” said Young Israel of Century City Rabbi Elazar Muskin, a Mega-Mission co-chair. “Nobody’s blaming anybody as long as they’re going to Israel.”

The Mega-Mission is part of an up tick; tourism ministry statistics show that the 2003-2004 level of Jews visiting Israel did increase after several years of stagnant or decreasing Jewish tourism due to terrorism and the ongoing intifada. But a bulwark of Israeli tourism remains visits and pilgrimages by Christians.

Synagogues participating in the Mega-Mission include Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, Muskin’s Orthodox Young Israel congregation, the Conservative Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge, Temple Beth El of South Orange County, Mission Viejo’s Temple Elat, Arcadia’s Congregation Shaarei Torah, Congregation Ha-Makom in Northern California and Adat Shalom and Temple Beth Am, both in West Los Angeles. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Southern California Board of Rabbis endorsed the mission, which was coordinated by Israel Tour Connection..

The Mega-Mission will have Jewish Angelenos meeting with Israel’s tourism minister plus opening and closing trip dinners.

“From the first stage I believed in this project,” said Noam Matas, the tourism ministry’s departing Western U.S. director, who noted that the average tourist spends about $1,000-$1,500 per day in Israel. “People want to go to Israel; the only thing that they were lacking was the leadership to take them.”

Individual synagogues running their own tour groups to Israel this year cut interest in the $2,300-person Mega-Mission. Reform congregation Temple Israel of Hollywood ran a 10-day study mission in mid-October, including a visit to help its sister shul near Jerusalem. Muskin’s own synagogue saw 65 of its members travel to Israel over Thanksgiving weekend for a bar mitzvah.

“So they turned it into a mission, which is great, but they’re not going with me in December,” the rabbi said. “Did as many rabbis and synagogues get behind it they should have? No. This is a big Jewish community; there is a sense of community but it’s not as strong as it should be because of its size. There’s nothing to criticize when you get 200-plus going to Israel; it’s fine, it’s a wonderful opportunity for the L.A. community to promote tourism.”

Matas also is working with Rabbi David Wolpe of Westwood’s Conservative Sinai Temple for plans to lead 100-200 Jewish tourists to Israel next May, plus a different trip for all the Chabads of Southern California. From Dec. 30-Jan. 6, Seattle-based Jewish talk show host Michael Medved plans a West Coast interfaith trip.

With Tourism Ministry budget cuts creating a leaner U.S. marketing staff, Matas has been leading the outreach to evangelical and fundamentalist Christian churches. After a three-year tour working from his base at the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles, Matas left his director’s post on Dec. 7 as part of his normal ministry rotation. His successor has not been named, and Matas will remain in Los Angeles for the next few months working on ministry projects, including a stronger push into Latin America.

In 2005, evangelical Christian churches will start receiving customized tourism ministry DVDs, hosted by prominent Christian pastors, including the Rev. Jack Hayford of the Church on the Way in Van Nuys. The ministry’s Hayford-hosted “Destiny & Desire” DVD has been sent to about 38,500 pastors.

The other DVDs in the seven-DVD set will target Latino tourists with Spanish-speaking pastors, plus individual English-language DVDs for Calvary Chapel, Southern Baptist, Assembly of God and Nazarene congregations. Ministers from each of those faiths will talk to their own congregations about Israel.

“The message is different from DVD to DVD,” Matas said. “And the whole thing comes together as an online DVD library.”

The Tourism Ministry also is producing a tourism DVD for Christian women, showcasing sites relevant to the stories of biblical figures such as Rachel and Esther. While all the DVDs are hosted by prominent Christians, the final productions are edited by Israeli tourism officials.

Distribution of the 2,500 copies of the Christian women’s DVD will begin in January, when about 600 DVDs will be given to ministers’ wives at a Christian convention in Palm Beach, Fla. Separately, the leadership of the 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention has given Matas a pledge to put the Baptist-specific tourism DVD into all Southern Baptist churches nationwide.

 

World Briefs


Olympics Ban Wanted

Jewish groups called on the International Olympic Committee to impose penalties after an Iranian athlete refused to compete against an Israeli. The Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called for action after Iranian judokan Arash Miresmaeili refused to fight Israel’s Ehud Vaks on Aug. 13.

Miresmaeili said he took his stance to protest Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, drawing praise from Iranian President Mohammed Khatami. The ADL said the entire Iranian Olympic team should be banned, while the Wiesenthal Center said that “all those who supported and took part in the decision” should be penalized. Iran refuses to recognize the Jewish state.

Arafat: Mistakes Were Made

Yasser Arafat admitted members of the Palestinian leadership had “misused” their positions. In a rare admission, the Palestinian Authority president told Palestinian lawmakers Wednesday that “nobody is immune from mistakes, starting from me on down.”

But Arafat did not say what specific action would be taken. It’s widely acknowledged that many Palestinian officials, including Arafat, profited from their positions atop the Palestinian Authority.

U.S. Forces in Israel?

The United States denied a report its forces were undergoing counter-insurgency training in Israel. The Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday that Iraq-bound U.S. commandos were being trained at Adam Special Forces base outside Jerusalem, but did not give details. In response, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv said no U.S. forces were currently undergoing training in Israel, though it didn’t deny that there might have been such cooperation in the past. According to Israeli security sources, in designing tactics for Iraq, many U.S. officials have drawn on lessons Israel learned in its sweeps for Palestinian terrorists.

Tourism to Israel Up

Tourism to Israel was up 58 percent in the first half of 2004 compared to the same time period in 2003. Nearly 822,000 tourists visited Israel in the fist six months of the year, according to statistics released by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics and the Tourism Ministry. An estimated 1.4 million tourists are expected to visit Israel this year.

‘Messianic Jew’ Can Distribute Pamphlets On
Campus

The University of New Orleans will allow a Messianic Jew to distribute literature on campus. The school settled a lawsuit recently with a female student who had taken the school to court after being blocked from distributing several pamphlets, including one that proclaimed, “Jews should believe in Jesus.” Religious literature previously had to be screened by the school. The American Center for Law and Justice, a civil rights group that filed the suit on the student’s behalf, said the policy is now consistent with the First Amendment.

A Site of Their Own

A section of the Western Wall in Jerusalem set aside for women’s and mixed prayer services was officially inaugurated. The site, located on a section of the wall next to Robinson’s Arch, now home to an archeological garden, will be used starting Wednesday for all-women’s prayer services conducted by the Women of the Wall group. The site also will be used for mixed services held by Israel’s Conservative movement, which has been using the site unofficially for the past five years. The area has a separate entrance that will keep women away from direct contact with other worshipers, some of whom oppose some types of women’s public prayer in the Wall’s main prayer area.

Eugenics Proponent Running for Congress

A Republican candidate for Congress advocates incorporating eugenics into public policy. James Hart of Tennessee promises to use eugenics, the pseudo-science that was a precursor to the Holocaust, as the basis for policy proposals if elected. “Favored Races,” his political manifesto available on his campaign Web site, mentions Jews but doesn’t say which demographic groups would suffer under his proposals. Discussion boards on the site overflow with rejections of eugenics, which encourages selective breeding. Tennessee’s state GOP has denounced Hart’s platform and distanced itself from the candidate after failing to place its preferred Republican on the November ballot. Democrat John Tanner, an eight-term incumbent from the state’s Eighth District, is expected to prevail easily.

Nobel Prize-Winning Poet Dies

Nobel prize-winning Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, died Aug. 14 at age 93. He was close to Jews and Jewish causes from an early age, and some of his most eloquent and disturbing works dealt with the Holocaust, Holocaust memory and the complex relations between Jews and Catholic Poles. One of his most famous poems, “Campo dei Fiori,” written in 1943, described how Poles outside the Warsaw Ghetto were oblivious to the fate of the Jews as the Nazis destroyed the ghetto. This and another Milosz poem about Polish indifference to the destruction of the ghetto sparked one of Poland’s first important public debates on the issue of Holocaust guilt and memory, which was carried out in a series of essays and articles in the late 1980s. In his Nobel acceptance speech in 1980, Milosz described how memory of the Holocaust was fading and becoming distorted, and how the complexities and nuances of history were becoming forgotten.

“We are surrounded today by fictions about the past, contrary to common sense and to an elementary perception of good and evil,” he said.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Another Chance to Buy Israeli


Last year’s Israeli merchant fair in Irvine — the first stop in a three-month caravan — spoiled vendors with large crowds open pocketbooks and home-cooked meals.

Merchants are already clamoring for a reprise on May 23 as part of "O.C. Celebrates Israel," a communitywide event including entertainment, folk dancing, a fashion show and food on the playing field of Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School.

"One or two shows lived up to Orange County," said Jeb Brilliant, of Garden Grove, a volunteer who has since become a commercial coordinator for other venues seeking to host Israeli craftsmen.

The collapse in Israel tourism has hurt merchants, and Jewish communities around the United States have demonstrated support of Israel by turning social halls into faux souks. Yet, many events held in smaller Jewish communities, or are poorly marketed, yield vendors’ little profit, said Brilliant.

"When you consider our expenses, it’s very tough," said jewelrymaker Michael Vagner, 43, who absorbs his own travel costs and fees averaging $250 per event to participate. He is one of at least 40 vendors who will open for business temporarily in Irvine on May 23.

"Now we rely on these fairs," said Vagner, whose wife, Nurit, remains in Shohan, Israel, with their three children and produces silver and gold baubles from a home studio. "Our clients that came every year for Pesach, if they don’t come to us, we’re coming to them."

Organizers hope to again host vendors in their homes and drum up an estimated 5,000 customers. The Israel event is chaired by Mali Leitner and organized by volunteer leaders David Prihar, Charlene Zuckerman, Dassie Feingold, Alex Yospe and Rosa Yospe Dan Abir, Jena Kadar and Adrienne Stokols.

Volunteer opportunities are available by calling Hagit Partouche at the O.C. Jewish Federation, (714) 755-5555, ext. 240.

Evangelical Media Gather Around Israel


"FIree soup’s on us!" That was the invitation David Suissa’s Los Angeles-based charity Meals 4 Israel extended to all 5,000 participants of the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Charlotte, N.C. last month — and it was pastors and ministers who made their way to the booth to sample some soup and learn more about the charity.

Suissa started Meals 4 Israel after reading an October 2003 Ha’aretz article that said that one in five Israelis live below the poverty line. He decided he could let the soup kitchens concentrate on making soup while he raised money for them.

And he turned to the Christian community to do it.

"We really want help from anyone," Suissa said. "But we felt that the Christian community was a huge group with a visceral connection to Israel and a special, biblical affinity to problems like hunger."

So Suissa teamed up with the Christian Coalition of America, a lobbying group affiliated with thousands of evangelical churches, to harness the fundraising potential of the Christian community. Meals 4 Israel went down to North Carolina to set up a booth at Feb. 13-18 event to capitalize on Christian love for Israel and raise more money for needy Israelis in the process.

Meals 4 Israel was only one of several Jewish or Israeli related booths at the convention, which brought together more than 250 publishers, radio and television stations, programs and ministries from across North America. But the largest booth was not a Christian one: it was Israel’s Ministry of Tourism.

The preponderance of Jewish- or Israel-related booths appearing among those featuring crosses and the Jesus paraphernalia made it clear that there is a dichotomy in the alliance Israel has with the American Christian community. While Christians attending the conference are ready to invest millions of tourist dollars in Israel and support Israel-related charities, they are also eager to evangelize Israeli and Diaspora Jews.

The Israel Ministry for Tourism sponsored both the Israel booth and a breakfast for about 1,000 convention participants, at a cost of almost $200,000.

"We view the evangelical Christian market as a powerful mechanism to increase tourism in the land of Israel," Israeli Tourism Minister Benny Elon said. "Evangelicals are visiting Israel in tremendous numbers, and we want to continue to increase tourism to the land of the Bible."

Other booths capitalized on Christian love for Israel. Holy Land Gifts sold Christian-friendly products made in Israel, such as shofars and tallises used in some evangelical services, while Mount of Olives Treasures, a Jewish-owned company, sold biblical teas and biblical oils that contain fragrances mentioned in the scriptures.

For all the goodwill toward Israel, there was an evangelical counterbalance. Jews for Jesus had a small booth but a big presence at the convention, with many people walking around carrying their distinctive red-and-white bags. Chosen People Ministries sought to attract young evangelists with a snappy brochure titled, "Jewish Evangelism — Who, Me?," featuring cute coeds. The brochure promised "exciting outreach" opportunities: "Our short-term Missions Department can show your church group the needs of the Jewish community through outreach, cultural understanding and prayer. Our experienced missionary staff will train and lead you in outreach to the different Jewish communities of New York."

Bible Voice Broadcasting, lead by a "spirit- filled believer," Rabbi Moshe Laurie, announced its inaugural Hebrew broadcast to Israel. The Messianic Prophecy Bible sought sponsors to create a Jew-friendly Bible that would "emphasize the messianic prophecies and explain how Yeshua (Jesus) fulfilled those prophecies" and would help save the "14 million unsaved Jewish people worldwide."

Herschel W. Gulley of the Gulley Foundation, who has traveled to Israel dozens of times, told The Journal, "I get a little flutter in my heart every time I hear about Israel."

Gulley has plans for Israel: By the end of the year, he wants to set up free ultrasound clinics in Israel to stop abortions — "No woman who has ever seen her baby has aborted it," he said — and then go into poor communities and give residents presents, like free computers. "Then, they will say, ‘Tell us about this God of yours,’ and then we will tell them about Jesus," he said.

Also disturbing was the response that "The Passion of the Christ" got when it was screened at the NRB Media Awards. In what was possibly a veiled reference to the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a spokesperson from the Alliance Defense Fund, who spoke prior to the film, railed against "the groups who have done everything in their power to keep this film from ever being seen. [These ] groups would like to silence all of us."

Paul Lancer, the film’s public relations director, introduced the film saying, "This movie has been operating on a God level. [This film] is a work of God."

The sobbing and heaving of the 5,000 people attending the screening augmented its soundtrack. Afterward, various clerics and others told The Journal that the portrayal of the Jews was not negative per se, but "historically accurate."

"In the scourging scene, every time the whip dug into his skin, I was thinking, ‘That was for me; that was for me,’" said Sharon Hodde of the Proverbs 31 Ministry in Matthews, N.C. "The Jews are not portrayed positively in the film, but that was historical."

Nevertheless, evangelism and "Passion" fervor are not the main issues facing the Jewish community.

"The real unholy alliance," said Elon, the Israeli tourism minister "is the one between the radical leftists who sit in Hyde Park and the Jew-haters who look to destroy the state, instead of the alliance between people who love the land of Israel and love the land of the Bible."