Tourism minister urges Israelis to boycott Turkey

By Amy Teibel
Associated Press / October 31, 2010

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JERUSALEM—Israel's tourism minister on Sunday urged Israelis to boycott Turkey in response to Israeli press reports that the country has classified Israel as a strategic threat.

The minister's comments threatened to worsen the rising antagonism between the formerly close allies.

The Israeli reports, all quoting unidentified Turkish media, gave varying accounts of what was written in the Turkish document.

Israel's Channel 2 TV and Haaretz daily quoted it as saying that Israeli policies are causing unrest in the region that could threaten Turkey. But Yisrael Hayom, a free and sometimes sensationalist tabloid, said Israel had been defined as a "central threat to Turkey."

The Israeli reports also said Iran and Syria had been removed from Ankara's threat list, raising new questions about the direction of Turkey, a regional power that has been assertive in its outreach to the Muslim world but insists it is not turning away from long-standing alliances with the West. Turkey has the second-largest military in NATO.

A senior Turkish Foreign Ministry official said it "has not and will not declare" the contents of the confidential document prepared by National Security Council cited by the Israeli press cited. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, called the Israeli media reports "nothing more than speculation."

While the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Foreign Ministry had no comment, the unconfirmed press reports were enough to set off Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov, a political ally of Israel's hardline foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman.

"There is no hostility between the two peoples, and ties with Turkey are important to the state of Israel," Misezhnikov said through a spokesman. But "Turkey must be totally boycotted as a tourism destination to preserve the national honor."

Turkey, a 90-minute flight from Tel Aviv, had been a major tourism destination for Israelis, with 560,000 streaming to its sites and beaches in 2008, according to Israeli tourism officials.

Turkey's Tourism and Culture Ministry reported that a mere 2,600 Israelis visited the country in June.

Israel and Turkey have built strong military and economic ties over the past 15 years, with Turkey becoming Israel's closest ally in the Muslim world. Trade between the two countries rose more than 20 percent in the first nine months of 2010 compared with a year earlier.

But tensions have been increasing since Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamic-oriented government took power in 2003.

He censured Israel for the high Palestinian civilian death toll during Israel's 2009 military offensive in the Gaza Strip and then ties hit a new low after Israeli naval commandoes shot dead nine Turks on board a flotilla seeking to breach Israel's naval blockade of Gaza in late May.

Turkey's warming relations with Iran are also of great concern to Israel, which considers Tehran to be its most menacing enemy.

Misezhnikov has a history of making blunt comments. Earlier this month, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development sent a sharply worded letter to Israel's prime minister after the tourism minister was quoted as saying an OECD conference in Jerusalem proved the disputed city had been recognized as Israel's capital.

Misezhnikov later said he was misquoted.

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