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Japanese hotel accused of canceling Israeli guest’s reservation because of ‘war crimes’

By Lilit Marcus, CNN

(CNN) — A hotel in the Japanese city of Kyoto allegedly canceled an Israeli tourist’s reservation because of “war crimes,” drawing criticism from local officials who said it violated regulations.

The tourist received a Whatsapp message from an employee at the popular destination’s Hotel Material telling him the booking scheduled for June had been canceled in response to the conflict in Gaza, according to the Israeli Embassy in Tokyo.

One message, confirmed to CNN, is said to have read: “We are sorry to inform you that, due to war crimes being committed by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) members in the conflict taking place in Gaza between Israel and Palestine, we are not able to accept reservations from persons we believe might have ties to the Israeli army.”

It’s unclear why the hotel employee believed the person had ties to the Israeli army.

The traveler who received the Whatsapp messages made an initial complaint to the Israeli embassy in Tokyo. The person was able to make a new reservation at a different hotel in Kyoto and continued his trip as planned.

The Embassy accused the hotel of “a clear case of discrimination” when the news of the alleged incident went viral last week.

The hotel, which has not responded to multiple requests from CNN for comment, was also strongly reprimanded by Kyoto’s city government, which accused it of breaching Japan’s Hotel Business Act, which regulates the hospitality industry.

“Our position is to provide safe, secure, and high-quality accommodation for citizens and travelers, and we will respond strictly to situations that do not conform to this, such as this one,” a representative for the Kyoto city government told CNN, adding that a city representative visited the hotel in person to inform them of the legal violation.

‘Singular incident’

Ido Bromberg, a political counselor at the Israeli Embassy, told CNN that the person who allegedly sent the Whatsapp messages was a low-level employee at the Hotel Material, not its general manager, owner or director.

The Embassy has sent a formal complaint letter to the Japanese government, but Bromberg emphasized that there is no animosity between the two countries.

“We know that this is not a characteristic of Japan in general or the hotel industry in Japan,” he said. “We know that the hospitality of Japanese hotels is excellent and extremely nice, so we hope that the hotel will take necessary measures to make sure this will not happen again, and with the specific employee.”

“We see this as a very singular incident, and we hope it doesn’t happen again.”

Bromberg noted that there is a direct flight between Tokyo and Tel Aviv operated by Israel’s national carrier El Al and says that Japan is a “favorable” destination for Israeli tourists.

The Israeli embassy says it would appreciate an apology from the hotel but will not pursue any legal action over the allegation.

On October 7, 2023, Hamas militants entered Israel via Gaza, taking about 250 people hostage in a violent terror attack that killed more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel was “at war” shortly afterward. Since then, more than 37,000 people have been killed in Gaza by Israeli military offensives, according to Gaza health authorities.

A United Nations inquiry this month found that both Israel and Hamas have committed war crimes amid the war in Gaza.

CNN’s Rinka Tonsho contributed reporting.

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