The closure will not likely affect U.S.-Israel relations, but it will affect the ease with which people in our region are able to do business with Israel.
These are sad days for pro-Israel Philadelphians and Jewish residents across the Delaware Valley. Last week, Israel’s Foreign Ministry announced that it will close its consulate at 18th and JFK by the end of the year, ending the Jewish state’s 55-year diplomatic presence in the City of Brotherly Love.
“It meant a lot to have the consulate here. It made access easier for a lot of folks to stay connected to Israel,” said Rabbi David Glanzberg-Krainin of Congregation Beth Shalom in summing up community reaction to the announcement. “I can express unequivocally it will be a loss for the Philadelphia Jewish community and it will make our access more difficult.”
The consulate, which serves the sixth-largest Jewish community in the country, and Jewish communities and Israeli citizens throughout the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Delaware, and the southern part of New Jersey, will be closed along with four other diplomatic missions, in what has been described as a cost-cutting measure. For our community — which has been raising money to support Israel since even before it was a state — the idea that our connection is being severed to save money is tremendously disappointing. And the fact that, beyond an explanation from the consul general, the Foreign Ministry has signalled little appetite for discussing the decision adds a significant element of frustration.
There are numerous alternatives to the total closure of the consulate. But, unfortunately, there has been no open discussion of them. If it was purely a matter of money, perhaps our community could have arranged for the housing of consulate offices in our Jewish Community Services Building, three blocks from the current consulate. Or perhaps there was room to scale back the range of services being offered through the consulate, rather than simply closing it down. For example, does every city where there is a consulate have an academic affairs
liaison, a cultural liaison and a press liaison, like we have had in Philadelphia? Would it make sense to standardize such services across the board in order to weather the current economic difficulties, rather than shutting doors that once closed will be difficult to reopen?
We acknowledge that the planned closure will not likely affect U.S.-Israel relations. It will, however, affect the ease with which people in our region are able to do business with Israel. For example, instead of having a ready consulate in our city, they will have to travel to New York or Washington for visas, and other mundane activities. And as an integral part of Jewish Philadelphia, the absence of consulate personnel at communal events, on campus and in regular dealings with elected officials will leave a void. It didn’t have to turn out this way.