By Herb Keinon / JPost.com
After a two-year reprieve, Israel’s consulate in Philadelphia is once again on the chopping block, with the Foreign Ministry announcing earlier this month its intention to close five of its 106 representations abroad as a cost-saving measure.
In addition to Philadelphia, the embassies in Belarus and El Salvador, as well as the consulate in Marseilles, are to close their doors. Israel’s roving ambassador to the Caribbean, who is stationed in New York, will also be cut out.
A statement put out by the ministry said that the closings followed a government decision on the matter last year.
As a result, the ministry said, it will allocate the freed-up funds to strengthen existing representations.
The statement said that the ministry will act to prevent the harming of the rights of Israelis and locals employed in the offices marked for closure.
A decision to close the consulate in Philadelphia was canceled two years ago thanks in large part to pressure put on the ministry by the Jewish community there and by local politicians.
The Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce and the local Jewish community started a campaign to save the consulate, saying that closing it would be a blow to the region and an even greater loss to Israel.
In addition to the embassy in Washington, Israel has consulates in nine US cities: New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
At the time, closing the consulate in Philadelphia was explained as necessary in order to open up Israel’s fourth consulate in China, in Chengdu.
That consulate has since opened, and a former diplomat said that it would send a bad message if a consulate in the US is closed in order to fund a new one in China.
Considering the importance of Israeli-US ties, the source said, Israel should not be reducing its presence in the US.
The official also came out against doing away with the roving ambassador to the Caribbean, saying there are some 20 states in that region, which, although they may not have much economic or military significance, do vote in the UN, and are worth cultivating.
The cost of the ambassador is not that much, he said, saying Israel was shooting itself in the foot by doing away with this position at a time when it is trying to improve voting patterns in the UN.
The source said that if representations needed to be closed, it did make sense to close the embassy in Minsk, since Belarus is not a politically significant state, and it does pretty much what Russian President Vladimir Putin tells it to do. Further, the former diplomat said, economic relations there could be overseen through businessmen traveling there from time to time.
The ex-official also said that there was logic in closing the consulate in Marseilles, since France is a centralized country run out of Paris, and that if the staff in Paris would be augmented, it could effectively deal with other parts of the country. There has been talk of closing the consulate in Marseilles since 2002, but it, too, has always been saved at the last minute, often thanks to figures in the local Jewish community.
“My concern is that the representations will be closed, but the existing ones will not be strengthened,” he said.
Over the last 15 years, Israel has closed offices in various parts of the world while opening others elsewhere. For instance, in 2002 it closed its consulates in Rio de Janeiro and Sydney, while opening a one in 2013 in Bangalore.
Israel closed its embassy in Minsk in 2002, but reopened it two years later, only to now announce its closure again.
Israel’s embassy in New Zealand and Paraguay were also closed in 2002, with the New Zealand embassy opening again in 2010, and Paraguay in 2015.