For years the Israeli Consulate located in Philadelphia has been rumored to be on the chopping block, but each time the executioner’s swing was stayed.
Just last month, however, the word came from Jerusalem that this time Israel’s Mid-Atlantic Consulate which serves Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, Southern New Jersey and Kentucky was slated to close, according to insiders.
But local Jews, including many Israelis, are not willing to take the eviction notice as a done deal.
The argument for closing the Consulate located in Philly is that it is believed to be imperative to open a new Consulate in China, and therefore, for financial reasons, an existing consulate has to close.
Israel not only has embassies in Beijing and Ghounzhou, it also has a consulates in Shanghai as well as one in Hong Kong. The location of a new consulate in Chengdou, which is located in China’s central Sichuan region, would place it in an important financial and communications center. Still, there are fewer than 3,000 Jews amidst a population of 1.3 billion Chinese.
Currently, Israel has 90 embassies and consulates around the world, including nine consulates in the United States. Those are in Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
In some countries there are consulates, but very few Jews. Put aside what might be strategic reasons for maintaining an Israeli presence in most African countries or countries in dangerous neighborhoods which permit the Jewish state to maintain a presence.
It is hard to imagine a strong reason for Israel to maintain an office in, say, Belarus, which has somewhere between 12,000 to 24,000 Jews left. That’s because Hitler wiped out four out of every five Belorussian Jews in 1941. Still, the numbers continue to dwindle, not swell.
And then there’s Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, which have fewer than 50,000 in the two countries combined. To say nothing of Myanmar, which has few if any Jews left at all. Yet those countries will continue to play host to an official Israeli presence, while the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. is said to be not just on the chopping block, but with the knife already on the downswing.
The Philadelphia Israel Chamber of Commerce has marshaled the strongest financial arguments to keep Israel’s Mid-Atlantic regional consulate open.
“While it is a blow to our community, it would be an even greater loss to Israel,” is how Vered Nohi-Becker, the executive director of the Philadelphia Israel Chamber of Commerce, described the rumored close to The Jewish Press.
“This is a large and important region which is accelerating U.S.-Israeli business development and which plays a key role in maintaining the cultural, political and philanthropic ties to Israel,” Nohi-Becker continued.
One example of those ties is the 10-day trade mission to Israel that Philadelphia’s mayor, Michael A. Nutter, is on right now.
“The consulate was instrumental in making those connections, as is the case with so many different delegations from the area which visit Israel,” according to Nohi-Becker.
Nohi-Becker’s boss, Chamber president Richard Bendit, said in a massive email sent out to its constituents that “approximately 25% of Israel’s $5 billion of exports to the US passes through the Greater Philadelphia region, which boasts the fifth largest Jewish community in the US.” Those are big numbers.
The local chamber of commerce also initiated an online petition to send to the government of Israel, in order to allow its members to see that the Israeli consulate located in Philadelphia is one that will be sorely missed.
The staff and directors of the Israeli Consulate in Philadelphia were not willing to comment beyond their earlier statement that “no firm decision had yet been made.”
But area Israelis were quick to voice their deep concern.
Sharonna Durry, founder of PhillyIsrael and now executive director of Bnai Zion Foundation’s Mid-Atlantic Region was emphatic: “It will hurt the region if there is no official representative of the government of Israel here,” Durry told The Jewish Press.
Bnai Zion is a 101 year old service organization that raises money for humanitarian projects in Israel and America. Durry explained that the current Consul General, Yaron Sideman, came to a Bnai Zion event on October 23.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus