Israeli travelers flying to Turkey are reconsidering their plans following violent anti-Israel protests and caustic comments from Turkish Prime Minister Recap Tayyip Erdogan over Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.
“I wouldn’t fly to Turkey right now. I’m too scared," said Maya Kramer Shahar, a 36-year-old Tel Aviv resident whose travel plans to go to Turkey were canceled. "I don’t think they like us right now. I would not take a risk.”
On Thursday, protests outside Israel's embassy in Ankara turned violent, while an op-ed in a newspaper linked to Erdogan called local Jews to apologize for the Gaza operation. Five days earlier, Erdogan said Israel's actions in Gaza were worse than the Holocaust, saying in a campaign speech that "Those who condemn Hitler day and night have surpassed Hitler in barbarism.”
Israel's Foreign Ministry on Friday called back the families of its diplomats in Turkey, and warned Israelis not to visit Turkey amid the political climate.
Mark Feldman, CEO of travel agency Ziontours, said that he's had two dozen cancellations for trips in the next ten days, and numerous requests from people merely flying through Istanbul to rejigger their itineraries.
“People are afraid to fly via Turkey. There’s a lot of anger, a visceral emotional opposition to flying on Turkish Airlines because it’s a government owned airline,” Feldman said, though he notes that there haven't been any recorded incidents of Israeli tourists being harassed on Turkish flights or in its airports.
Even as political ties strained in recent years, Turkey had remained one of the most popular vacation destinations for Israelis. During the Passover holiday this year, it was the top destination for Israeli tourists.
Interestingly, noted Feldman, Israelis traveling to France have not canceled their plans, despite several violent protests over the Gaza war there, including the siege of a synagogue in Paris.
During the operation, Jews have been attacked by pro-Palestinian protesters in Boston and Los Angeles, and, according to Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett, diaspora Jews are facing increased anti-Semitic attacks as a result of the operations.
"The people who are against Israel are using a lot of violence in their demonstrations and that’s what scares me," explained Shahar, a New York native and executive at fashion startup Stylit. "It’s ok for people to demonstrate and say their opinion and make their voice heard, I have no problem with that, but these pro-Palestinian demonstrators have a lot of hate, and things are getting violent.”
But many of the cancellations are also a result of more practical reasons related to the war. Zeev Dahan, the CEO of Club Med, says that many cancellations came from reserve soldiers being called up for duty. People are also reticent to initiate travel plans there.
"There is a significant slowdown in new reservations for July-August and the High Holidays in Turkey and other destinations," Dahan said. "I am not sure Erdogan's comments have had an effect in the meantime."