The Times has stood by a travel piece about Israel that described the country as remaining “a place of barely contained warfare.”
The piece, headlined “Enjoy Jerusalem with a stunning sea view” appeared in the paper’s Saturday travel section on September 15 and told readers that “fear of violence has cut tourism to Israel”.
According to The Times, this was based on Israeli Tourist Board figures, showing a drop of just one per cent in UK arrivals to the Jewish state in the first six months of this year compared with the same period in 2011.
Written by established travel journalist Gabriella Le Breton, the article included references to Bethlehem being “lit not by stars but by the flashing blue lights of armoured police vehicles acting on a security alert,” which, she added, was “par for the course in this war-torn region”.
She described the “turmoil” of a roadblock, her cruise ship being unable to dock in Ashdod because of shelling from Gaza, and complained of “the notorious immigration offices at Israel’s airport and borders”.
The newspaper, which was criticised by readers for the piece, defended it against charges of it giving “an unjustly negative view of that country” in its weekly feedback column.
Feedback editor Rose Wild wrote: “She [Ms Le Breton] had an eventful and, as her article described, an intensely moving visit.
“No two views of a destination will ever be the same. Our travel pieces are based on the writer’s own experiences of various places, and this is one such case.”
Ms Wild added that the paper wished “Shanah Tovah to all our readers.”
Ms Le Breton, who said she had been bombarded with “nasty communications and seriously threatening emails” since the piece appeared, said she had very much enjoyed her visit and pointed out that there were more positive observations in the article, including describing Jerusalem as “an extraordinary city”.
“I really enjoyed my time there and raved about it to all my friends,” she said.
“What I reported was accurate; there was trouble, there was a bomb check, there were security issues. My job is to report honestly on the three days I spent there. Sadly, it is a point of fact.”
She added: “If people respond to really innocuous articles in this way, then they will successfully destroy any chance of any coverage of Israel in travel.”