(photo credit: AP)
It heated up when Al Jazeera showed up in my office. Based in Dubai, the far
sprung cable network decided in the vein of fairness to send a team with its
crack reporter to interview Israelis to gauge their response to the widening
crisis with Turkey.
Claiming to be from the Britain-based Sky network,
they had beseeched my staff with a heartfelt plea if they could pitch up in my
office and film their spot.
It took all of 30 seconds for us to realize
that while their clipped English was quite impressive, there had been some
Still, if the government had given them visas, far be
it from me to deny them their opportunity. First to enter my inner sanctum, the
hard-nosed producer declared emphatically that without some visual background of
Turkey, they could not film in my office. Happy to oblige, I brought them our
framed photo of Turkey, a recent present from Turkish Airlines. Visibly relieved
she asked if I could hang it in my office.
Joyfully I told her that its
present location near our rest rooms suited our mood perfectly.
decorations were needed though. Eyeing the collection of model airplanes that
pepper my bookshelf, she sheepishly asked if I could place the model of the TWA
plane on my desk throughout the interview. Unable to stifle my laughter, I told
her that her choice of an airline on which Arab terrorists had perpetrated
atrocities in the past would create a lovely subconscious atmosphere for our
In walked my interviewer – a youngish Palestinian woman who
effortlessly asked me some background questions before beginning our interview.
The gist of our talk was business of course. Politics was rarely mentioned. With
flights to all of the Turkish resorts suspended and the only air link between
the two countries consisting of Turkish Airlines flights to Istanbul, she seemed
taken aback when I loudly opined, “Turkey is dead.”
Understand that for
more than a dozen years, the number one leisure destination for Israelis has
been Turkey. Beautiful resorts throughout the country have seduced
First class resorts, water sports and activities galore, all
inclusive packages, reasonable prices – Israelis took to it all like manna from
heaven. It’s over.
We may be a stiff-necked people but we’re not stupid.
When the leader of Turkey calls us war criminals, associates us with al-Qaida
and threatens to steam into Gaza leading his own flotilla, we say enough.
Remember the background – for the last two years, Turkish politicians have
accused Israel of a myriad of offenses. The flow of tourists to Turkey has ebbed
and flowed in direct response to the bile that emanated from the mouths of its
Just three months ago, an impressive delegation came from
Turkey. Complete with hotel owners, tour operators and representatives of the
Ministry of Tourism, they pleaded with us to ignore their political leaders and
return to Turkey. We were told that the Turkish people loved Israelis, that they
valued our small contribution to their industry. So we listened and began
promoting packages to the Turkish Riviera once more. Cheaper than packages to
most of Greece, the Turkish resorts began seeing large bookings. Passengers
returned in droves to flying Turkish Airlines, no longer concerned about
transiting through Istanbul airport to connect with flights to London, New York
or Johannesburg. This too has changed.
Recent announcements by Turkish
Airlines report a drop of 50 percent in passengers.
Keep in mind that in
the past, clients elected to fly with Turkish Airlines, feeling confident in
both their security and excellent service with the added bonus of inexpensive
fares. Today consumers are voting with their feet and flying alternative
Nonplussed by my opinion, the Al Jazeera correspondent
pointedly asked how we would handle the economic loss. Her naïve question
highlighted the issue in a nutshell.
Israelis weren’t cancelling their
trips abroad, only their trips to Turkey. Quickly taking advantage of the void
in the market, wholesalers whipped up their promotions to nearby destinations.
Cyprus, Greece, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic are just a few of the places
that Israelis are travelling to.
The Greek islands of Rhodes and Crete in
particular will now attract a larger influx of Israeli tourists. Taking a break
the producer offered her two cents. Pointing out that there are almost 1.5
billion Muslims and only 12 million Jews, she asked how I could be surprised
that Turkey was moving closer to the Islamic world and leaving the West behind.
Sadly I had no witty retort.
Israeli travel professionals question how
long this boycott of Turkey will remain.
Israelis have short memories and
few places close by present all that the Turkish resorts proffer, so the
overriding feeling is that they will vote with their wallet. I’m less
I’ve been to Turkey numerous times; the people are quite warm
and their leisure facilities are truly some of the best I’ve stayed at.
value for money, it’s no mystery why hundreds of thousands of Israelis
to spend their holiday money in Turkey.
Still, older professionals in my
field regale me with stories of how airlines used to fly from Tel Aviv
Teheran, how the Iranians welcomed Israelis with open arms. Will the
leave Turkey in this category? My hunch is that until its political
learn to remain mute, the only sound from Israelis will be that of