arsenal logo 88.
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The Tourism Ministry has delayed its advertising at Arsenal Football Club's new Emirates stadium fearing that a campaign promoting Israel might create negative sentiment in the UK after the war in Lebanon, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
"It was a mutual decision as we felt it wasn't the right time to start the campaign," Uzi Gafni, director of the Israeli government tourist office in the UK and Ireland told the Post. "Given how Israel was portrayed in the British media through the war, we felt it better to wait until the cease-fire agreement was secure, that Israel was out of the limelight for a while, before starting the promotions for fear of a negative reaction by the public here."
According to a 350,000 Euro sponsorship deal signed in February, between then-tourism minister Avraham Hirchson and Arsenal managing director Keith Edelman, Israel was set to be the club's preferred travel destination for the next two seasons.
Israel was to be featured on digital billboards and LCD screens around the new Emirates stadium as well as on the club's Web site and in its magazine, in a campaign scheduled to start from the opening premiership home game on August 19, which fell just less than a week after the cease-fire with Hizbullah took effect.
The campaign was part of a wider effort by the ministry to boost tourism from the UK and took on greater significance after the war put the breaks on the growing flow of foreign tourists to Israel.
The Ministry had set itself a target of around 2.6 million tourists to arrive in 2006, which industry observers say will be reduced to approximately 2.2 million because of the war. Last year, some 1.9 million foreign tourists arrived.
In light of this trend, the government was also criticized for its slow reaction to initiating a campaign abroad to reshape Israel's image as a tourist destination. It has since approved a NIS 35 million budget for that purpose.
For now, however, a visit to www.arsenal.com confirms that Israel remains absent from the football club's impressive list of sponsors.
Gafni said that Tourism Ministry representatives were scheduled to meet with Arsenal around mid-September and that the campaign should kick off at the club's home game on September 23 against Sheffield United.
He added that the government had received assurances that it would be compensated for the time lost on the deal.
The club said in response: "Arsenal is jointly evaluating with the Israel Tourist Board the position with regards to our relationship."
Meanwhile, Gafni dismissed concerns that Arsenal's main sponsor Emirates Airlines had anything to do with Israel's absence at the stadium which replaced the famed Highbury stadium as Arsenal's home at the start of the 2006/07 season. The Dubai-based airline reportedly paid $100m. for the naming rights at the stadium and Israel's association with the club sparked controversy over their speculated dissatisfaction of the deal.