Israeli Tourists Traveling Abroad Face Discrimination, Exclusionary Policies

Tourism takes its place as a new front in the Israel-Hamas war with Israelis being increasingly mistreated while traveling abroad.

Kazuhiro Tsugita/Wikimedia Commons
A hotel in the Maldives. Kazuhiro Tsugita/Wikimedia Commons

As Israel’s defensive war in Gaza pushes into its eighth month, some disapproving members of the international community have opted to take out their frustrations on Israelis traveling abroad, subjecting Israeli tourists to discrimination and exclusionary travel policies. 

Just last week, reports surfaced that an Israeli tourist who booked a hotel room at Kyoto had his reservation canceled by management due to Israel’s actions in Gaza. 

The hotel manager notified the Israeli tourist of the cancellation and explained that, “We are not able to accept reservations from persons we believe might have ties to the Israeli army” out of the fear of “being considered accomplices and/or accessories to a person who could be facing prosecution for war crimes as soon as the conflict is over,” hotel manager Jeronimo Gehres wrote, according to screenshots posted by the Israeli visitor named Alex. 

As Israelis are subject to mandatory military service — except for those with health or religious exemptions — Mr. Gehres’s rationale would ban nearly all Israeli citizens. Though given that the hotel did not request any information on the Israeli visitor’s military background before issuing the cancellation, a blanket ban was likely the management’s intention. 

The Israeli ambassador in Japan has since filed a complaint against the owner of the hotel and contacted relevant Japanese officials to request an investigation. 

This incident comes just a week after customs officers at Heathrow Airport were accused of discriminating against Jews and Israelis when they singled out El Al passengers coming from Israel for additional inspection. 

One passenger alleges that he and the rest of the flight goers were ushered into a separate room to have their luggage scanned after a customs officer noticed an Israeli flag on his bag. 

“One traveler said ‘Why us?’ The official didn’t reply. Another traveler said: ‘We are Jewish, why are you doing this to us?’ The official said ‘I am a customs officer and I can do whatever I want,’” a passenger told U.K. Lawyers for Israel, an association of lawyers dedicated to supporting the rights of Israelis. 

The group has since requested a formal investigation into the incident. 

One country has taken the discrimination a step further, banning Israeli passport holders from entering the country altogether. That was the decision of the Maldivian president, Mohammad Muizzu, who said his country would ban all Israeli passport holders from entering the Maldives.  

It seems, however, that the Indian Ocean hotspot has hit a bump in the implementation of its extreme measure. Upon discovering that many Palestinians actually hold Israeli passports, the lawmakers decided that the existing bill would need to be revised, Attorney General Ahmed Usham announced.

Israel boasts around 2 million Arab Israelis, representing approximately 20 percent of the country’s total population. 

While Israelis can still enter the country while the new law gets ironed out, the Israeli Foreign Ministry has since announced its recommendation for Israeli citizens and passport holders to forgo travel to the island nation for the time being. American lawmakers are reportedly in the process of drafting a bill to prevent the Maldives from implementing their restrictive ban. 

Israeli passport holders are no strangers to travel restrictions. Currently, nearly 30 countries do not recognize Israel as a sovereign nation and just about half of them refuse to process Israeli passports. Some countries will even deny entry to non-Israelis who have recently traveled to Israel or whose passports have evidence of an Israeli visa. Many of these bans include Israeli Arabs as well. 

Though in the months immediately following October 7, many countries chose to express their disapproval of Israel’s military response by either withdrawing their ambassador from Israel or suspending diplomatic relations with the country.

Colombia and Turkey are the most recent countries to sever ties with Israel amid the ongoing war. They join the likes of South Africa, Bahrain, Chile, Honduras, Chad, and Jordan, which have either recalled their ambassadors or ceased political relations with Israel.

While these actions do not result in explicit travel bans, they do make travel more difficult, particularly for their citizens to travel to Israel. 

“If Israel does not stop the massacre of the Palestinian people, we cannot be there,” was the message from Colombia’s president, Gustavo Petro, following his decision to recall the country’s ambassador from Israel. 

Tourism is an important sector for the Israeli economy, accounting for approximately 3 percent of gross domestic product and 3.5 percent of total employment. Direct and indirect tourism jobs make up about 6 percent of all employment in Israel. Tourism in Israel dropped dramatically in the immediate aftermath of October 7, largely in part to security concerns and flight cancellations.

Yet eight months into the war, with many airlines having reinstated flight schedules to Israel, tourism has still not fully recovered. While the 79,500 tourist entries in March marked an improvement from February’s 68,100, the number still greatly lags the 375,600 entries in March of 2023.

The New York Sun

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