Israelis Get Travel Tip: Pack Ps and Qs


To hear them tell it, Israelis have a terrible reputation as tourists in other countries. Stories of rude Israelis who trash hotels and insult waiters are legion.

Now the Tourism Ministry wants to do something about it. Starting this week, just as huge crowds rush to summer vacations abroad, the ministry is handing out letters to traveling Israelis admonishing them to "act politely."

"There are too many reports about Israelis abroad who go wild and behave violently and who give the country and its people a bad name," Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi says in the letter. "We have enough problems and troubles explaining our military and political struggle to a hostile world. We have enough trouble explaining Israel to nations, because they favor our enemies, because some have anti-Semitic feelings, and because we are terrible at hasbara [public relations].

"So why do we have to add to this inappropriate and even infuriating behavior? Why does the relieving of tension by our young people when they go out into the world have to express itself in vandalism in hotels and restaurants?"

Zeevi urged travelers to respect their hosts and act as ambassadors of Israel in their journeys.

That he has taken on the role of Miss Manners may seem a bit incongruous. A far-right nationalist who advocates the mass expulsion of Arabs, Zeevi recently stirred a flap by referring to illegal Palestinian workers as "lice" that have to be eradicated.

Never mind. The last straw, Zeevi said in an interview Wednesday, was a report this week in Israel's largest newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, about an especially rambunctious group of Israeli tourists wreaking havoc in the Greek isles.

In this instance of the "Ugly Israeli" phenomenon, as the paper termed it, youths broke doors, hurled bags of human excrement, torched mattresses, dueled with fire extinguishers and tossed beer bottles, rolls of toilet paper and watermelon rinds into the swimming pool.

Zeevi said the report "drove me crazy." While the "loud and obnoxious" are a minority, he said, they succeed in creating a very negative image and causing "revulsion."

His one-page letter is being handed to Israeli travelers as they line up in the crowded departure lounge of Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv.

The scolding missive comes on top of what is already an ordeal for Israelis leaving the country. Because of warnings of a possible terrorist attack, security at the airport was tightened Monday, causing traffic to back up for miles. Scores of people abandoned their cars at the side of the road in frustration, hauling their luggage the rest of the way.

The traffic flow was a little smoother by Wednesday, but travelers are still being advised to reach the airport four hours before their flights.

Israel has one of the highest per capita travel rates in the world, with tens of thousands of passenger departures weekly. This time of year, when school is out and the heat sets in, travel is particularly popular. This summer, especially, Israelis are escaping in droves to overseas destinations because of the bloodshed that has soaked the region for more than nine months.

Zeevi starts his letter by saying he really wishes that Israelis wouldn't travel abroad at all but stay at home instead--to support the domestic tourism industry and enjoy the sites their own country has to offer. But he says he understands Israelis' "national characteristic" of wanting to explore, born from wandering in the desert for 40 years in search of the Promised Land, and 2,000 years of diaspora.

"The nations of the world will judge us according to the way you behave," Zeevi wrote. "May you have a great vacation!"

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