Israel launches tourism campaign aimed at young British Jews

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The Independent Online

The Israeli government has embarked on a marketing campaign to reverse a slump in the number of young British Jews going to Israel on holiday.

A double-page advertisement placed in the Jewish Chronicle by the Israel Government Tourist Office calls for solidarity among British Jews, quoting the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz: "Jewish solidarity with Israel is still measured by the same, simple, down-to-earth test: a physical presence alongside Israelis in their hour of need."

However, the advertisement admits that after the events of 11 September "it would be surprising if you didn't at least have some doubts about visiting Israel at this time".

The situation has prompted the president of the country's national airline, El Al, to call for more people, especially youngsters, to visit. David Hermesh said that while parents and grandparents were continuing to fly frequently between the two countries, the younger generation was not.

The Palestinian intifada of the past year had led to a drop of 40 per cent in visitors to Israel, although the number of visitors from Britain was down 30 per cent, he said.

El Al has reduced its fleet of aircraft from 31 to 28, and the number of seats on its flights has been cut by 20 per cent. Mr Hermesh described the financial situation as "not good". He told the Jewish Chronicle: "We don't know how to convince new people to come to Israel, to use El Al .... The reduction of seats will remain, because we believe 2002 will be as difficult as 2001."

Russell Workind, the director of the Federation of Zionist Youth, the largest organisation for young Jewish people in Britain, said: "We are planning ahead for next summer. We're nervous about the numbers of people dropping. But I'm not sure that David Hermesh has got the issue right.

"It's not that young people aren't willing to go; it's the parents paying who are nervous. We're very realistic but still believe young people want to go and are willing to go. More than ever, it's important to go."

Yesterday, customers at the Carmelli Bagel Bakery in Golders Green, North London, were adamant that the recent violence in Israel would not deter them from visiting their spiritual home.

Steven Berold, 24, an investment banker, said: "I was there two months ago, and I will definitely go now. Israel has been under attack for the last 50 years and nothing has changed apart from public perception of what's going on. The attacks don't hit at the heart of where most people live. It won't have any impact on my going to Israel at all.''

One 16-year-old student said that she would go to visit her brothers and sisters, but would not tour the area. "It's too dangerous. I would visit the wailing wall and that's it."

Mark Loya, 21, a Canadian student studying in Swansea, said that he was considering going on a trip to Israel in July.

''I have family there and I'm concerned for them. But Israel has been through hard times before and will come through it in one way or another," Mr Loya said. "I don't know whether violence is the answer. Amongst my friends, the United States is not looked upon favourably for bombing Afghanistan, and it might weaken Israel's cause if it follows the American example.''