JERUSALEM -- To hear them tell it, Israelis have a terrible reputation as tourists in other countries. Stories of rude Israelis who trash hotels and insult waiters are legion.
Now the Tourism Ministry wants to do something about it. Starting this week, just as huge crowds rush to summer vacations abroad, the ministry is handing out letters to traveling Israelis admonishing them to "act politely."
"There are too many reports about Israelis abroad who go wild and behave violently and who give the country and its people a bad name," Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi writes in the letter. "We have enough problems and troubles explaining our military and political struggle to a hostile world. We have enough trouble explaining Israel to nations, because they favor our enemies, because some have anti-Semitic feelings, and because we are terrible at hasbara (public relations).
"So why do we have to add to this inappropriate and even infuriating behavior? Why does the relieving of tension by our young people when they go out into the world have to express itself in vandalism in hotels and restaurants?"
Zeevi urged travelers to respect their hosts and act as ambassadors of Israel in their journeys.
The last straw, Zeevi said in an interview Wednesday, was a report this week in Israel's largest newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, about an especially rambunctious group of Israeli tourists wreaking havoc in the Greek isles.
In this instance of the "Ugly Israeli" phenomenon, as the paper termed it, youths broke doors, hurled bags of human excrement, torched mattresses, dueled with fire extinguishers and tossed beer bottles, rolls of toilet paper and watermelon rinds into the swimming pool.
Zeevi said the report "drove me crazy." While the "loud and obnoxious" are a minority, he said, they succeed in creating a very negative image and causing "revulsion."
His one-page letter is being handed to Israeli travelers as they line up in the crowded departure lounge of Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv.
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