ISRAEL: Israeli tourism minister invited to Iran -- or not
Israel is participating in Madrid's FITUR, the largest tourism fair for the Spanish-speaking and the Latin American market, and is showcasing airlines, hotels and travel agencies in the Israeli exhibit in order to encourage tourism to the nation.
The delegation, headed by Israel's tourism minister Stas Misezhnikov, is also interested in increasing cooperation in this field with other nations, including those in its own region. The Israelis visited the exhibits of Morocco, Egypt and Jordan, and Misezhnikov also exchanged warm greetings with the director-general of the Palestinian tourism minister, expressing hope for successful cooperation. The Syrians ignored the Israeli delegation.
But a pleasant surprise awaited the Israelis upon arrival at the Iranian exhibit, according to the Israeli tourism ministry. Hesitating at first, the Iranian representative presented the exhibit of Iran's tourism options to the Israelis, and invited Misezhnikov to visit Iran. (Above, an Iranian exhibitor at the fair, left, talks with Misezhnikov.)
Misezhnikov reportedly shook hands with the Iranian official -- later identified in the press as tourism minister and vice president Hamid Baghaei -- and expressed the hope for better relations in the future. "We are both from the same region and tourism can be a bridge to peace," he said. "The people of Israel see the people of Iran as a friend but it is important that the Iranian president stop his wild incitement against Israel and bring Iran back into the family of nations."
He was invited to visit Iran's nature reserves and cultural sites, he says.
Iran denied the handshake or that the two even stood next to each other. The official news agency IRNA stated that the "Zionist regime published a blatant lie in order to distract global attention from its crimes in Gaza" in 2009."The Zionist regime is illegitimate and trying to promote their interests by issuing such news," foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said today, according to the semi-official Iranian Labor News Agency. "The Islamic Republic and Iranians despise Israel. The Zionist regime officials are aware of such feelings, therefore they try to conduct psychological warfare."
Incidentally, included in the Israeli exhibit is an Israel Museum display featuring a copy of the Dead Sea scrolls. Recently, Jordan filed a complaint to UNESCO, claiming documented ownership of the scrolls, which Jordan charges Israel seized from their rightful owners in the 1967 war. Jordan also appealed to Canada to remove the scrolls from a display in Ontario and seize the scrolls. Canada did not want to intervene; the exhibit is now over.
The first fragments of the ancient scrolls, written over a period of around 300 years from the third century B.C., were discovered by chance by a Bedouin shepherd boy in 1947 in the caves of Qumeran above the Dead Sea; they were recovered in stages over the years, including after the 1967 war. Israel maintains it is the rightful owner of the scrolls, and the Israeli Antiquities Authority has decided to stop sending them abroad for fear of further legal issues. Regardless of the controversy, here's an interesting peek into restoration work on the scrolls.
-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem.
Top photo credit: Israeli Tourism Ministry
Bottom: Stas Misezhnikov between Israel ambassador to Spain and ministry's director of marketing. Credit: Israeli Tourism Ministry.