(January 7, 2016 / JNS)
By Shalle’ McDonald/JNS.org
Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday announced the future closure of five diplomatic missions abroad due to budgetary considerations. Despite the Israeli consulate in Philadelphia’s presence among the closures, public policy experts say the development will not adversely affect U.S.-Israel relations.
“In the last decade many countries, including the United States, have closed consulates. It’s never a good thing, but we should not exaggerate the impact. This will have no impact on U.S.-Israel diplomatic or political relations,” Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank as well as a former official in the George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan presidential administrations, told JNS.org.
Israel has 106 diplomatic missions around the world. The five slated to be shut down include consulates in Philadelphia, Belarus, El Salvador, and Marseilles, as well as a “roving” ambassadorship to the Caribbean.
Besides the Philadelphia consulate, which covers the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S., Israel has consulates in nine American cities: New York, Boston, Miami, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.
The Foreign Ministry had planned to close the Philadelphia consulate two years ago, but the local Jewish community as well as local politicians stepped in to keep the office alive.
Lauren Hitt, a spokesperson for Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, expressed disappointment in the decision due to Philadelphia’s sister city partnership with Tel Aviv, but told PhillyVoice that America’s City of Brotherly Love is “still committed to maintaining a positive relationship and open dialogue with our Israeli residents.”
Natan Sachs, a fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution think tank, said he does not expect the consulate closure “to have a major effect on U.S.-Israeli relations, though certainly it won’t help in Philadelphia.”
“The closures are part of an ongoing process in the Israeli Foreign Ministry that is based in budgetary consideration. It reflects an unfortunate weakening of the Foreign Ministry in comparison to other parts of the Israeli bureaucracy. Clearly, to my mind, it would be better to keep these missions open, but of course the question is the opportunity cost involved—what other budgetary cut would be necessary to do so,” Sachs told JNS.org.
Michael Alexander, director of governmental affairs & press for the Philadelphia-based Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region, confirmed that the Foreign Ministry would “terminate operations of the Consulate General of Israel in Philadelphia by the end of 2016.”
“Until the consulate ceases its activities, it will continue operations and serving the Mid-Atlantic region. Once [the Philadelphia consulate is] closed, other Israeli missions in the U.S. will expand their reach. The ministry will do its best to assist its local employees in this process,” Alexander told JNS.org.
He added, “Israel maintains the importance of its special relationship with the United States. The decision to close the consulate in Philadelphia does not in any way reflect a change in this unique bond.”
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