On Monday, nearly 300 people belonging to the tourism industry were protesting at the Ben Gurion airport against the COVID-19 measures that have been implemented in Israel. According to these people, these measures are throttling their industry and they have not been given any compensation in the form of state-funding for covering their losses. Last month, Israel had closed off entry for foreign travelers in a move to slow down the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. This rule is still in effect, while the list of countries categorized as ‘red’ has been has also grown, which has had an impact on the travel industry in Israel.
Tour guides and organizers, hotel workers, bus operators and staff from local attractions were all part of the protest that was conducted at the entrance of the airport. They demanded that the government compensate them for the business they have lost. There were some police confrontations, while a few protestors even sat down on the road approaching the airport, thereby blocking the cars of people who were coming to catch their flights. There were some signs held up by the protestors that said ‘Switch jobs’, which was a message aimed at Avigdor Liberman, the Finance Minister.
During a cabinet meeting held on Sunday, the Finance Minister had said that tourism workers should begin looking for new jobs because the government’s rules were doing a lot of damage to their industry. Some of the other signs by the demonstrators noted that Galit Bennett, the wife of the Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, was vacationing in the Maldives. Her trip has drawn a lot of criticism because there has been a crackdown on international travel and the premier had urged Israelis to not travel abroad. One of the protest’s organizers, a tour guide said that the Finance Minister does not have an understanding of tourism.
He added that a lot of people were not able to survive on internal tourism alone because it only happens over the weekend. The tour guide said that he had to face financial difficulties due to the situation and demanded that the industry receive compensation. He said that he already had a profession and could work in it, but it was the government that had decided to shut it down. Therefore, they need to pay for it. Liberman acknowledged during his weekly party meeting on Monday that his remark had been uncalled for.
He said that his words may have been incorrect, but the data was not. Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the country, more than 4.5 million tourists had visited Israel, but they had only gotten 376,000 tourists this year. Liberman said that people didn’t have to be finance ministers to understand that 4.5 million people are not going to visit next year either. He added that he was hoping an aid package would be introduced for the tourism industry this week, which would include funding for retraining programs. According to the minister, retraining programs are the best way forward.