Business travelers rarely experience marvels of Israel

JERUSALEM — Israel is truly a wondrous place. It is filled with history and culture. Its beauty and charm is unparalleled.

Wandering around, whether walking on city streets or traipsing along hills and valleys is like a journey through the foundation of Western culture. The Jewish, Christian and Muslim worlds all began here. And they have each left their signature on the terrain.

If you ask the average person on the street almost anywhere in the Western world who the prime minister of Israel is, you will almost certainly get the proper response. If you ask about Germany or France, your chances of getting the right answer are low.

And that is why I never seem to get over the fact that many of those who come to Israel on business are nothing short of blasé about being here. They may be geographically in Israel, but that is just a function of time travel and space. They have very little interest in their host country, let alone its history and culture.

My frustration stems from two sources: the visitors and their hosts.

I am not speaking about tourists, who visit a country for the pure pleasure of basking in her past and present glories. I am talking about businesspeople, visiting journalists, dignitaries. People who are here on work.

True, these people are not here on vacation. In fact, most of their time is spent in other people's offices, in meetings, at luncheons or in the case of journalists, on "location," the places that they are filming or preparing to write about.

But with few exceptions, most of them do get at least one day off while here.

And with few exceptions, most of them spend their day off "relaxing" — in their hotels, at the pool, drinking coffee or sipping scotch, all in the hotel bar or lobby. Seldom will they go out and see a site not connected to their work. Why be bothered?

This is my experience for Jews and Christians alike. Can you imagine being in Tel Aviv working on a venture capital campaign and, in your free time, not coming to Jerusalem?

We may be bursting with history, but geographically, Israel is a small country. From Jerusalem one can get to the Dead Sea in 30 minutes. From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 45. From Haifa you are only a few minutes drive to Akko. If you are up north, three hours later, you're at the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

It is just pitiful. For many, these trips are a once-in-a-lifetime event.

These travelers-businesspeople-moviemakers are not solely to blame. Why would a visitor to this country express interest in venturing outside his four walls during his spare time when his host may spend all of his spare time lambasting the country?

For some reason that I have yet to understand, Israelis feel that it enhances their own personal standing if they denigrate their own country. Sounds counterproductive to me when what you are really, professionally, trying to do is make your country sound attractive so that your "deal" can go through. But that seems to be the Israeli way.

And then of course there is politics!

Every Israeli is a frustrated member of Knesset. Everyone has an opinion and voices it loudly and vociferously. But Israelis are entitled to do that. This is, after all, their country, their future, their vote. Visitors, on the other hand, are just that. Visiting. And yet, every single visitor that I have encountered — no matter how ignorant of history, religion and politics — finds it incumbent to offer great insight into Israeli politics and to explain to me how Israel is mistreating, abusing and murdering the Palestinians.

I love Israel. I love it for its place in my history and world history. It is the country I have chosen to call home. It is a wonderful place to live and to visit.

I think the difference between me and many others, is that I'm not afraid or embarrassed to say it out loud.