Ankara’s support for flotilla prompts Israeli backlash

New survey shows that nearly all of Israel’s unions are boycotting organized workers’ trips to Turkey.

May 31, 2010 04:31
3 minute read.
Turkey's new ad campaign, unveiled yesterday, aims

people on beach 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Turkey, once the number one destination for organized workplace vacations, is now facing a boycott from the same groups that used to storm its seaside resorts every summer.

On Sunday, a survey conducted by Va’adim, a company that gathers information on the social and economic activities of Israel’s unions, revealed that 95 percent of the unions had banned all organized trips to Turkey following that country’s involvement in organizing the aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip.

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In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Va’adim CEO Yakov Alush said that “Turkey had been wiped off the workers unions’ travel maps.”

“In a survey we conducted among the participants in the semi-annual union heads forum, we found that Israel’s workers’ unions have had enough of Turkey’s hostility toward Israel, which in the past had been characterized by verbal attacks by the country’s prime minister, but had now shifted to active attempts to harm Israel’s sovereignty,” said Alush. “The tourism boycott is a weapon that will send a message to Ankara that words and deeds have consequences.”

Union plans to boycott organized trips to Turkey first surfaced last year in the wake of Operation Cast Lead, when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of committing war crimes. But in recent months, attempts to draw back Israelis achieved a modicum of success, with the Turkish Tourism Ministry reporting an increase of 18% in Israeli visitors during the first quarter of 2010 over the same period in 2009.

“The Turkish government has invested heavily in drawing back the Israeli workers unions and improving the [Israeli] public’s opinion,” said Alush. “They hired a leading public relations firm and constructed the biggest booth at the Israeli tourism trade show. They claim that tourism and politics should be separate, but the union heads don’t buy it.”

Alush said that people should go on vacations with a “positive atmosphere,” adding, however, that “the atmosphere in Turkey is anything but positive.”

According to Alush, union-organized trips make up 50% of the total outgoing tourism market in Israel, equaling roughly two billion dollars.

“Now is the time of year that workers’ unions are booking vacations for their members, and there are other countries that are more than happy to have Israelis visit them instead of Turkey,” he said. “The most promising replacement destinations are Cyprus and Greece, which are offering competitive deals for organized trips.”

Alush said that Israel’s pensioners’ organizations recently joined the unions in their boycott decision, and that together they were a formidable force.

“Both groups are attractive clients for tourism operators like airlines, hotel chains and travel agencies. When we unite, they tend to listen,” said Alush.

In response to the unions’ announcement, the Turkish Tourism Ministry, represented in Israel by public relations firm Ran Rahav, said, “Since the beginning of the year there has been a 18% increase in the number of Israelis traveling to Turkey, compared to the previous year. We hope that the growth trend will continue in the upcoming summer months. We do not mix politics and tourism.”

Dani Tzimet, deputy chairman of the Israel-Turkey Business Council, said the unions’ boycott would seriously harm Turkey’s tourism sector.

“Since the boycott was first announced in 2009 there was a drop of 50% in Israeli visits to Turkey,” said Tzimet. “During 2009 and the beginning of 2010, there were cracks in the wall and people started returning, but it’s important to note that any increases being reported on now are meaningless as they are in relation to 2009 numbers. If you want to get a real picture of the situation, you have to compare today’s numbers to 2008, before the tension between the countries began to be felt.”

Tzimet said that while in 2008 560,000 Israelis visited Turkey, in 2009 only 300,000 people did so.

“If the flotilla indeed leaves for Israel and causes Israel embarrassment and hurts its international image, it will definitely have an effect on Israeli visits to Turkey,” he said.

Among the unions that have called for the boycott according to the survey are the workers of: the Israel Electric Corporation, Bezeq, El AL Israel Airways, Egged, the Haifa Port, ECI Telecom and Shikun VeBinui.

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