Haredim in focus at Meseznikov’s tourism ‘kollel’

Tourism minister hosts haredi politicians in effort to better understand the tourism needs of their community.

By BY RON FRIEDMAN
February 5, 2010 05:09
2 minute read.
Stas Meseznikov

Stas Meseznikov 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov has come under harsh criticism in recent days over alleged frivolity during recent visits to Spain and Brazil.

On Wednesday evening, however, his office looked more like a kollel than a nightclub, as he hosted haredi politicians in an effort to better understand the tourism needs of their community and find ways to cooperate in attracting haredi tourists from abroad.

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The Israel Beiteinu minister met with Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) and other deputy ministers and committee chairs from haredi parties, to hear from them their constituency’s tourism needs.

The aim of the brainstorming session was to examine the characteristics of foreign and domestic haredi tourists,  identify the difficulties facing them and zero in on obstacles to maximizing the sector’s potential.

According to the minister’s media adviser, the guests took an active role in the debate, with Yishai saying his ministry would cooperate in expediting permits for sites in the north, especially near burial sites of sages, which are popular among haredi tourists.

Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman proposed the construction of special vacation resorts for haredi tourists from the United States. Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni outlined to the minister and his staff the needs of an average haredi family while on vacation and asked that Meseznikov draw up a five-year plan to answer those needs for the cabinet’s consideration. He also pledged to help arrange the details with the Treasury.

At the end of the meeting, Meseznikov instructed his staff to put together a taskforce, including representatives of the haredi community, that will examine the various needs and set about fulfilling them.



Meseznikov also announced a NIS 30 million plan to upgrade infrastructure at Mount Meron, that will be presented to the cabinet in the coming weeks. The tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai on Mount Meron is the most-visited Jewish holy site after the Western Wall, with hundreds of thousands converging on it on Lag Ba’omer.

“As part of the Tourism Ministry’s multiyear plan, this year for the first time, attention was given to the haredi sector,” said Meseznikov. “It is important to develop marketing tools directed at the haredi population and at the same time to develop infrastructure and to define the specific tourism product suitable to this public. There is a huge potential for growth in this market, for both Israelis and foreigners.”

The meeting took place despite recent tensions between the ministry and the haredim over such issues as visas for Ukrainians. Sources in the haredi community said they welcomed Meseznikov’s approach and hoped they could continue cooperating.

“The haredi community has much to contribute to Israel’s tourism sector and it is nice to see that our input is desired,” said a source who attended the meeting.

Yishai’s spokesman said that Yishai encouraged Meseznikov after their meeting, advising him not to let the recent criticism get him down.

“In every politician’s career there are good days and bad days,” Yishai reportedly said.

Meseznikov said he planned to let his actions speak for him and that results in the tourism sector would demonstrate his dedication to his position.

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