Public security, foreign ministries balk at proposal to scrap visas for Russians

But Tourism Ministry argues it will bring in masses of tourists.

russian passport 88 (photo credit: )
russian passport 88
(photo credit: )
Both the Public Security Ministry and the Foreign Affairs Ministry stridently oppose the Tourism Ministry's push to eliminate the necessity for Russian tourist visas, currently required of all visitors to Israel from that country. The two ministries raised concerns Monday over the possibility that non-desirables - including prostitutes, criminals and possibly even terrorists - might enter Israel if the Israeli Embassy interview process for the visas is cancelled. The Tourism Ministry claims that if the requirement for Russian tourists to have pre-approved visas in order to enter Israel were repealed, it would bring in hundreds of thousands more tourists annually. However, the Foreign Ministry is concerned that along with the many tourists, trafficking in women would also increase. Russian women-trafficking is already an issue here, and Foreign Ministry officials said these women currently come into the country on tourist visas, without which the problem would be impossible to monitor. The ability of criminals and organized crime to exploit the situation to enter Israel is an even greater concern, the officials said. Another point raised was that Chechnya, a country filled with al-Qaida members, is considered part of Russia. If in the future, Russians were allowed into the country without visas, so would Chechnyans. However, if Israel were to exclude Chechnya from the repeal, it would thus acknowledge Chechnya as an independent country and anger Russia. The Tourism Ministry argued that these problems already exist, and the elimination of the required tourist visas would not create more of a problem. Regarding Chechnya, the ministry said that currently, Chechnyans do not need visas to travel within Europe, and can access Israel through other countries. Also, the current tourism visas stipulate that a trip can only last around 4-6 weeks, and visas are not the reason why miscreants are not coming to Israel. According to the Tourism Ministry, roughly 75,000 Russian tourists visit here annually. Consulting group Ernst and Young said that among the world's nations, there is a high potential for more tourists from Russia to come to Israel, and that countries that have no visa requirements for Israel have witnessed an increase in tourism here. The plans for repealing tourism visas begins with Russia, the ministry explained. With the new policy in place, the number is projected to rise to 400,000 visitors, similar to the number of Russian tourists in Turkey and Egypt. The cabinet on Sunday postponed a decision on Tourist Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich's recommendation to do away with the need for visas for tourists from Russia. In the next two weeks a final cabinet decision will be reached, and while the outlook is not good for doing away with the tourist visas, Tourism Ministry officials still believe the change will pass. "Everybody wants it. Everybody wants to take credit," said Tourism Ministry spokesperson Amatsya Bar-Moshe. Bar-Moshe said eliminating the need for visas would greatly benefit Israel economically, and he expressed confidence that the move would ulimately be approved by the government.