Five countries boycott tourism conference in Jerusalem
Occupied Palestine – An OECD ‘High Level Roundtable’ on tourism due to take place in West Jerusalem has been thrown into chaos by the decision of five countries not to attend and the disclosure by several others that only low-level delegations will take part.
Following attempts by Israel to use the conference to further its territorial claims on Jerusalem and concerns raised by Palestinian civil society and its international supporters that the conference serves to whitewash Israeli violations of international law, the UK, Sweden, Ireland, Turkey and South Africa announced that they would be not be taking part. Although the UK denied that its refusal to attend was politically motivated, Sweden and Turkey openly stated that their withdrawals are political in nature.
In a further blow to the credibility of the ‘high level’ conference at which ‘senior government officials’ were expected to discuss tourism policy , a number of countries will not send tourism ministers and instead low-ranking officials will represent member country governments. The Greek delegation to the OECD told campaigners during telephone calls that no officials from Athens will make the trip and instead a staff member from the Greek tourist information centre in Tel-Aviv will represent Greece. During other telephone calls to OECD offices, campaigners learnt that Denmark will only send a statistician and that Belgium and Norway are still considering what level of representation will attend. France will be represented at a “technical level” only. A number of countries are yet to decide whether Ministers should attend, campaigners understand.
The withdrawals come following comments made by Israeli tourism minister Stas Misezhnikov that the situating of the meeting in Jerusalem – the first OECD meeting hosted by Israel since it became a member in May and only the second time an OECD tourism conference has been held outside of Paris – was in effect recognition by OECD members of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital. In a strongly worded letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, OECD General Secretary Angel Gurria called the comments “factually incorrect and quite unacceptable”.