Subscribe to our Newsletter

click to dowload our latest edition



Israel travel warning – a further blow to SA tourism



Israel’s foreign affairs ministry issued a travel warning for South Africa in early April, recommending that Israelis reconsider travel to South Africa against a backdrop of anti-Israel statements by senior South African officials.

“Israeli citizens staying in the country [South Africa] should avoid gatherings as much as possible and be attentive to the local media and the announcements of the foreign affairs ministry,” read the ministry’s statement.

The warning has led to the few Israelis who planned to visit South Africa to cancel their trips. Israelis and Jews from around the world have for the most part lost interest in coming to South Africa on holiday since 7 October, no matter how beautiful the country.

Since that date, tour guides who usually welcome hundreds of Israeli and Jewish tourists to South Africa’s shores have experienced a dramatic decline in this client base.

The travel warning may have been the last straw in ending Israeli and Jewish tourism to South Africa. It’s a blow that the South African economy doesn’t need, yet the African National Congress government has actively encouraged with its sustained campaign of hatred against Israel.

“I’m an Israeli tour guide. My client base used to be 99.9% Israelis. Now, I’ve got no work,” says Dafna Lemel Sher in Cape Town. “I would be fully booked. If there were 31 days in the month, I could have taken 31 tours. Now, everybody has cancelled. It’s gone from 100 to zero. My Hebrew-speaking colleagues have very little work. That’s all we did – guide Israelis. It’s because South Africa took Israel to The Hague, and the issue with people that have served in the army.

“Israelis aren’t interested. They are anti-South Africa, although we’re trying to tell them it’s not the people, it’s the government. I have to accept the situation and look at other avenues, guiding other people, but not in Hebrew. People used to book me six to eight months prior their trip, but now I don’t have anything in the future.”

A tour guide in Johannesburg who asked to remain anonymous says, “I’ve experienced a dramatic drop in people coming on trips, especially from Israel. Most of the time, I’ve take people from Israel around Johannesburg, but they’re non-existent at the moment. A tour operator who works in Israel also told me that there has been a massive decline. People are scared to come here, and people are upset with South Africa. Thousands and thousands of dollars are being lost in tourism.

“It’s a blow which our South African government doesn’t seem to care about. I know people that were supposed to have a wedding in South Africa that have changed their mind and are having it in Israel. I’ve also noticed that a lot of Jewish people from the United States and England aren’t coming out as well. They know that we have a great Jewish way of life here, there’s good kosher food, and all the amenities for Jewish travel, but they would rather spend their money somewhere else. I’m not even getting any tours from Germany or Australia. It’s been a massive decline.”

Oren Tadmor, a tour guide in Cape Town, says, “Before 7 October, I was extremely busy, working literally every day. It came to a standstill on 7 October. They look at what the government has done, deciding to go somewhere else. It has affected my business tremendously. I’ve looked into Jewish markets around the world, and the response to South Africa at the moment is reasonably negative. “On South African-Israeli WhatsApp groups, whenever anybody asks about coming to South Africa, everybody jumps at him or her and says, ‘Why would you want to go to a country that hates Israel so much?’”

All this has had ramifications on the South African Jewish Museum (SAJM) in Cape Town. “The events of 7 October have had a direct impact on the SAJM,” says Director Gavin Morris. “In the immediate aftermath, a large number of visiting school groups cancelled their pre-booked outings. These cancellations were, in some cases, from schools that had been attending our education programmes year on year. None of these schools specifically mentioned the events in Israel and Gaza, and no reason other than generic unforeseen circumstances was given for their cancellation.

“Furthermore, the museum was forced to shut on four separate occasions due to pro-Palestinian protests held directly outside the campus,” says Morris. “The museum’s social media pages have been overwhelmed with vitriolic, antisemitic trolls.

“Apart from the school cancellations and protest action, we have experienced a distinct drop off in visitor numbers as well,” he says. “Our numbers were tracking upwards and our August and September numbers were the highest they had been since the COVID-19 pandemic. By comparison, our October through February figures were some of the worst we have experienced during what is traditionally our busiest period. With Cape Town experiencing high tourist numbers during this period, I can only assume that the drop off in visitors is directly linked to events in Israel and Gaza.”

The museum’s largest tourist demographics are in Israel and America, Morris says. “Our Israeli visitors almost entirely disappeared. From conversations with our American visitors, it seems that there’s anger among American Jews at South Africa’s decision to approach the International Court of Justice [ICJ]. Those visitors that we did have from America had pre-booked their holidays ahead of the ICJ case. Many felt that their Jewish compatriots would be unlikely to visit South Africa in response to our government’s position.

“Whereas previously our school programme would already be fully subscribed, bookings began very slowly this year. Thankfully, over the past couple of weeks, we have experienced a steady albeit slow increase in bookings.

“The museum is one of the most high-profile public Jewish spaces in the country,” says Morris. “The intense level of emotion that events in Israel and Gaza has triggered has made it clear that the purpose of the museum cannot be more important. The museum shares the history of our community. We show how our community has been a part of the country for generations, and that we belong here as much as any other community.

“It’s important for our compatriots to know our history and how we helped shape the country’s history. We provide an opportunity for South Africans to learn about not only our community, but about our religion, culture, and connection to Israel. We’re a uniquely valuable resource in countering rising antisemitic and anti-Zionist propaganda in South Africa.

“Those within our community facing antagonism towards Israel or Jews in their professional spaces are welcome to contact us. We can arrange a tour and conversation to help counter pejorative perceptions about our community. We believe knowledge is the best antidote for hate.”

Rowan Polovin, South African Zionist Federation national chairperson, says “Israel regularly issues travel warnings to its citizens due to dynamic international security considerations. The irresponsible and reckless anti-Israel rhetoric by the South African government continues to impact how the international community perceives South Africa in terms of a safe destination for tourists and investment.”

Continue Reading
1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Cody Flecker

    Apr 11, 2024 at 2:53 pm

    It is time for the Jews in South Africa to once and for all leave the country and never return. South Africa is a beautiful country, but what is the sense of living in a country where your life may be at risk ant any moment? If one has to perish, then why not in Israel our spiritual home.

    Why take any more chances when there are so many other countries in the world that are a whole lot safer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *