Liberman apologizes to tour guides who he said should change jobs

Tour guides stage protest outside Ben-Gurion Airport • Start-Up Nation became the ‘closed-down nation’

 Independent business owners and workers from the tourism sector protest, calling for financial support from the Israeli government, outside the Ben Gurion International Airport, on December 13, 2021 (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
Independent business owners and workers from the tourism sector protest, calling for financial support from the Israeli government, outside the Ben Gurion International Airport, on December 13, 2021
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman revealed on Monday that he is working with his ministry on a compensation package for workers in the tourism industry.

Liberman clarified his statement during Sunday’s cabinet meeting that tour guides and travel agents should “find other work.”

“My wording could have been more successful, but the numbers are undeniable,” he told his Yisrael Beytenu faction.

Liberman detailed figures indicating a dramatic drop in tourism in Israel since before the coronavirus, from 4.5 million tourists to only 370,000. He said in the year ahead he does not expect the numbers to get much better.

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli also clarified on Monday statements she made about the tour guides in Sunday’s cabinet meeting.

 Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman defends the budget in a Knesset address. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman defends the budget in a Knesset address. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

“Anyone harmed by government decisions needs to receive assistance,” she told her Labor faction. “The government needs to be responsible for those harmed by its decisions.”

Israeli tour guides around the country organized in protest in response to the government’s commitment to severely limit international travel by extending mandatory quarantine for returning travelers and updating the list of countries that are “red” (a designation meaning that they have a high number of COVID-19 cases) every day. These measures are being taken in an attempt to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant in Israel.

Travelers returning or arriving from red countries, as designated by the Health Ministry, would be required to self-quarantine for a week once they enter the country in order to minimize the potential spread of infection.

Members of the tourism industry gathered at Ben-Gurion Airport on Monday, to rally against the government’s decision, which they claim will severely stifle their livelihood.

“We are essentially being forced not to work. That’s the situation,” said Bradley Lennox, CEO and owner of Dekel Israel Tours. “Instead of trying to figure out a solution, it’s easier for them to say ‘no’; and when they say ‘no’ they’re not allowing an entire industry to work.”

Lennox said that, due to the indirect prevention of the tourism sector’s operation, the government doesn’t feel it necessary to compensate those affected.

“We’re being told not to work by the government, we’re [not] receiving any compensation, and on top of that they’re telling us ‘look for other jobs.’”

“It’s an indefinite loss,” Lennox lamented. “Rather than the government giving specific dates of when it will return to normal, they throw out a two-week restriction, and then extend another 10 days, and then they’ll say ‘we need another 10 days.’”

The gathered crowd occupied the road to Terminal 3, impeding traffic and causing logistical issues for travelers, who had to walk to the terminal on foot through throngs of protesters.

“Any tour guide that relies on incoming tourists for their sole source of income is at the end of their rope,” said tour guide Mike Wiesner. “It’s really very simple: no tourists, no income. It’s frustrating that we tour guides need to demonstrate and march against the government who simply won’t give us the opportunity to earn a living.”

Wiesner believes that the move could potentially harm Israel’s international reputation.

“Our government is in [a] panic because of this new variant and I’m afraid their thoughtless decisions will have a long-term negative impact on an important part not only of Israel’s economy but of its international stature as well. One former client told me, ‘Mike, on our tour you hailed Israel as the Start-Up Nation but now it seems Israel is the closed-down nation.’”