Closure Rumors Again Plague Consulate


Less than two years after it was first rumored to be closing, the Philadelphia-based Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region is once again the subject of closure speculation.

There has been no official confirmation or denial from the Philadelphia-based Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region following a story in the Aug. 10 edition of The Jerusalem Post indicating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli government are considering closing it along with six other embassies and consulates around the world.

“We have received no official word from Israel substantiating these reports,” said Consulate spokesman Michael Alexander in a statement.

In the Post story, former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman accused Netanyahu of staging a “pogrom” of cost-cutting measures that could potentially jeopardize Israeli national security. He also expressed concern with the timing, since a number of key international issues are looming.

Should these shutdowns occur, Liberman fears Israel could suffer not only in terms of its diplomatic standing, but also in terms of diminishing support within the American Jewish community.

“There is no need to describe the ‘pogrom’ the prime minister did to the foreign ministry in recent months,” wrote Liberman, who declined a third term as Foreign Minister in 2013, on Facebook. “One action after another it weakened it, dispersed and decentralized the Foreign Ministry, making it a powerless body lacking influence.

“If dismantled, the Foreign Ministry can’t do its work and if the anti-Israel decisions are accepted, it will have far-reaching ramifications for Israeli security.

“The prime minister’s ‘pogrom’ is not only a problem for foreign ministry workers. It harms our national security and our ability to defend ourselves in the international area.”

This marks the second time in less than two years rumors of the consulate’s imminent closure have become public. The most recent one, in 2013, led to such an uproar within the Philadelphia Jewish community and beyond, the Israeli government ultimately backed off.

Now there’s concern the threat may have re-emerged, leading to speculation this might be part of a political game, with Philadelphia — along with San Francisco and Atlanta — as the political football. One reason behind that thinking is that unlike last time, the consulate has not received an official letter from the Israeli government declaring its intention to close.

“There’s a possibility something could happen,” said Lou Balcher, former director of academic affairs for the consulate. “But my sense is this is political. Unfortunately, Philadelphia is caught in the middle of it.”

That can’t be very comforting to outgoing Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter, who recently returned from a trip to Israel where he attempted to convince a number of Israeli companies to set up offices here. “The last time it came up as an issue, the mayor very vigorously argued for retention of the consulate here,” said mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald. “That view has not changed. We think it’s a very important point of contact for the city and the State of Israel.”

If there is any validity to the story, Sharona Durry, executive director of PhillyIsrael, which largely consists of native Israelis who’ve immigrated here, says her organization is again willing to do whatever it takes to keep the consulate here. “First, I have to find out if it’s true,” said Durry. “If it’s true we may have to go through and do it all over again. It all started with the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce and then we fed off that and came together as one community.

“We were trying to explain to the people in the community how important it is to have the office open. We encouraged them to call officials and send letters to the prime minister.”

That’s precisely what the Chamber of Commerce did in November 2013 when the rumors first surfaced; it took a few months to favorably resolved the issue. But Chamber president Richard A. Bendit stopped short of saying they would do it again to preserve the consulate.

“We don’t know there is an issue,” said Bendit, whose 2013 letter spelled out the reasons it was vital Israel maintain an office here with regards to economic, science, medical and cultural benefits. “We stand behind the consulate, just like we did in 2013. The Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce believed then and still believes today the Israeli consulate serves a vital purpose for the state of Pennsylvania and our region and should remain open.”

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