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Jewish Journal

Israeli Tourists ‘Ugly’ No More

"There should be a law forbidding Israelis from going overseas for at least six months after they get out of the army."

by Larry Derfner

June 17, 2004 | 8:00 pm

Leafing through travel books on Turkey at Tel Aviv's L'Metayel (For the Traveler), veteran sojourner Ronen Lazar suggests how to curb the phenomenon of the "ugly Israeli" -- the obnoxious Israeli tourist.

"There should be a law forbidding Israelis from going overseas for at least six months after they get out of the army," Lazar says.

He's not altogether serious, of course, but as a veteran traveler at 31, he's been pretty much all over the world, and has learned to stay away from young, wild Israelis traveling with, and in, packs.

Says Irit Gekler, 23, a clerk at L'Metayel who's toured the Far East and Europe: "You see them swaggering around like they're dealing with inferiors in some Third World country. They even treat adults like slaves. Older Israeli travelers don't act like that all."

In recent years there have been horror stories coming out of the Greek Islands about bands of young Israeli tourists getting into fire extinguisher fights in hotel corridors, throwing watermelon rinds over the balcony, burning a bed -- and defiantly cursing hotel employees who tried to get them to stop.

A sign at the entrance to a hotel on a Thai island reads: "ISRAELI NATIONALITY (sic) is not welcome to stay in this hotel, because they are problem makers. We cannot accept their behavior."

This is also the unwritten policy of several other hotels in the Far East and on the Greek Islands.

The signature of the "ugly Israeli" used to be the missing faucets in the sink of their hotel rooms. Now it's literally the signatures of Israelis who've spray-painted their names on mountain ranges in the Rockies, in Thailand -- even, according to the Yediot Aharonot newspaper -- on a prison wall at Auschwitz.

Clearly, things have gotten out of hand. No other nationality is known for the kind of intolerable behavior associated with young Israelis. So L'Metayel has started a program called "Israel's Good Will Ambassadors." Posters reminding travelers that they represent Israel abroad can be seen at Ben-Gurion Airport, travel agencies and other stopping-off spots en route overseas. Israelis at these places can pick up free packets of cheery postcards with "thank you" written in several languages -- including, of course, Hebrew.

"Leave a thank you ... because when you go overseas, you are Israel's image," reads the recommendation.

The public service program, which is backed by numerous public and private bodies including the Foreign Ministry, tourism companies and public relations agencies, has begun teaching good traveling manners to youth groups going on Holocaust study visits to Poland. Reports are that these groups are much less rowdy than others.

The obvious question is whether the campaign might impress only Israeli travelers who already are appreciative, respective, neat and generally civilized overseas, while the "ugly Israelis" will shine it on. "That's always a possibility," says Lazar, "but even if only the good travelers pass out the postcards, the people overseas will know that there are at least some good Israelis."

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