(Israel Hayom/Exclusive to JNS.org) A delegation of 15 Turkish dignitaries, including the governor of the Mediterranean resort area of Antalya, arrived in Israel May 24 for a three-day visit to promote Israeli tourism in Turkey.
“Tel Aviv is closer to Antalya than to Ankara (Turkey’s capital), and we want you (Israelis) as our guests and not just as customers,” Antalya Governor Munir Karaloglu said.
Turkey, and Antalya in particular, was one of the most popular vacation destinations frequented by Israelis until a diplomatic rift erupted between the two countries in 2010 following the Gaza flotilla incident, in which nine Turkish militants were killed in clashes after they attacked Israeli commandos who boarded a ship that was trying to breach the blockade on Hamas-ruled Gaza.
Although diplomatic relations have since resumed, Israeli tourists have continued to stay away due to fear of terrorism, with hundreds of people killed in a series of terrorist attacks in Turkey in recent years. A suicide bombing in Istanbul in March 2016 targeted an Israeli group on a culinary tour, killing three of the tourists. Israel's Counter-Terrorism Bureau has a long maintained a warning against travel to Turkey.
“We guarantee full security to Israelis visiting Turkey. Turkey is a safe country. It is no different than any other place in Europe,” Turkish Ambassador to Israel Kemal Oktem said May 24 during a press conference at the Turkish Cultural Center in Jaffa.
“I suggest that you turn to those who issued the travel warning and see why it exists at all. It is not necessary,” Oktem said.
In 2008, Antalya welcomed about 330,000 Israeli tourists. According to the Turkish Tourism Ministry, only about 169,000 Israelis, mostly Arabs, visited Antalya in 2016—a 60-percent increase from 2015, but nowhere near the numbers seen before the breakdown of Israeli-Turkish relations.