Officials urge reversal of ‘harmful’ ban on Indonesian tourists visiting Israel

Tourism industry warns of ‘insufferable financial consequences’ from tit-for-tat response to Jakarta’s moratorium on issuing visas to Israelis in protest of Gaza killings

Indonesian priests baptize Christian pilgrims in the Jordan river at Yardenit baptismal site in Israel, March 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)
Indonesian priests baptize Christian pilgrims in the Jordan river at Yardenit baptismal site in Israel, March 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)

Officials in Israel’s tourism industry have been protesting a Foreign Ministry decision to ban Indonesian tourists from entering the country, a move which came in response to a Jakarta ban on Israeli travelers.

Last month, Indonesia said it will no longer issue visas for Israelis in group tours, in protest of the IDF killing over 110 Palestinians on the Gaza border in weekly riots, protests and clashes organized by the Hamas terror group. Most of those killed have been identified as members of terror organizations.

Indonesia, a Muslim-majority country, does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

The Israeli tit-for-tat decision, announced in late May, has been said to endanger an industry that sees some 30,000 Christian Indonesian pilgrims visit the country every year at an average of a five-night stay.

The ban was meant to go into effect on Saturday, but has been pushed to June 26, The Marker reported Thursday. The step means some 2,200 Indonesians slated to visit the Jewish state in the next few weeks won’t be forced to cancel their trips, according to the report.

Yuval Rotem, director-general of the Foreign Ministry, October 13, 2016. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

But Yossi Fatael, the head of the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association, while welcoming the delay, said the decision should be reversed altogether.

Fatael sent an letter this week to Foreign Ministry Director-General Yuval Rotem  and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin asking to hold an urgent meeting over the consequences of the move.

“We call on the Foreign Ministry to reconsider its stance, which is perceived by our colleagues around the world as disproportionate, exaggerated and harmful to Christian institutions as a whole — and not only tourists from Indonesia,” Fatael wrote.

He highlighted the “insufferable financial consequences” for the Israeli travel agencies, hotels, bus companies, tour guides and others.

Sana Srouji, who manages the Eternity Travel company in Jerusalem, was quoted by The Marker as saying the decision will condemn her agency, as well as ten more agencies, to bankruptcy since 70 percent of their income is from Indonesian tourists.

Indonesian Christian pilgrims sing before a baptismal ceremony in Jordan river at Yardenit baptismal site in Israel, March 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)

“They are lovers of Israel who want to visit and also donate a lot of money,” she said. “These are tourists who already purchased flight tickets, and will now be forced to cancel everything without compensation.”

She said they would stay instead in neighboring Arab and Muslim countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, since they typically enter Israel through land crossings after visiting those countries.

Srouji said the step would also harm tour guides and other tourism workers who have learned the Indonesian language.

“I guide Christian pilgrims, some Protestant and some Catholic, who are also interested in Judaism,” Annabelle Herziger-Tenzer, one of 34 Israeli tour guides who speak Indonesian, was quoted as saying.

Herziger-Tenzer said that every month, nine months a year, she hosts three groups of some 35 people each.

She added that most groups purchase Israeli flags and take proud photos with IDF soldiers.

“I very much hope Israel will come to its senses and let Indonesians enter,” she charged. “Every time there is chaos in Gaza, they punish the Christian lovers of Israel in Indonesia, and now they are harassing them by preventing their entry into Israel.”

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said the Foreign Ministry’s decision was wrong and called for it to be reversed as soon as possible, according to the report.

But the Foreign Ministry justified its move, merely commenting that the affair “began with the Indonesian decision not to grant visas to Israelis.”

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