Tour operator says overhaul protests sparking overseas cancellations

Yossi Fatael says phenomenon not widespread, but could worsen; calls for ‘constructive discourse’ to maintain national unity

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Passengers at the arrival hall in Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on February 6, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Passengers at the arrival hall in Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on February 6, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The head of a major tour operator said on Sunday that scenes of nationwide protests against the government’s judicial overhaul have caused tourists to cancel their plans to come to Israel.

“Things have gotten to such a point that in recent days employees began to receive, in addition to worried phone calls from colleagues abroad, cancellation notices as well,” Yossi Fatael, head of the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association, said in a statement.

“Although the phenomenon is not widespread, naturally it may expand as it has in previous times,” he added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition has been barreling ahead with legislation that aims to weaken the High Court’s ability to serve as a check on the Knesset, as well as give the government control over the appointment of judges.

There have been weekly mass protests for nearly three months against the planned legislation, and a rising wave of objections by top public figures including the president, jurists and business leaders.

Police have increasingly used controversial crowd control methods, such as mounted officers and water cannons, to clear protesters who attempt to block roads.

“Our employees are excellent ambassadors of the State of Israel to the world. Their contribution to Israel’s image is invaluable and in recent weeks a significant part of their time has been devoted to conversation about the current situation in Israel,” Fatael wrote on Sunday.

Noting that arguments were part of the Jewish people’s “DNA,” he nevertheless stressed the situation was grave and called for “constructive discourse” to maintain the country’s unity.

Israel welcomed over 2 million tourists to the country in 2022, according to the latest data from the Tourism Ministry. These figures are a far cry from pre-pandemic times. Some 4.5 million tourists arrived in 2019, Israel’s strongest year on record.

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