Israel reconsiders, decides to keep Minsk embassy open

According to a statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office, Netanyahu decided not to close the embassy in Minsk “after a series of consultations with heads of the foreign ministry."

March 16, 2016 18:36
2 minute read.
Israeli embassy in Cairo

An Israeli flag flies at the top of the Israeli embassy in Cairo August 19, 2011. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Two months after announcing the closure of five diplomatic missions around the world as a cost-saving measure, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intervened on Wednesday to save at least one of them: the embassy in Belarus.

According to a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu decided not to close the embassy in Minsk “after a series of consultations with heads of the Foreign Ministry and with [Immigration and Absorption Minister] Ze’ev Elkin.”

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The statement said that Netanyahu, who is also foreign minister, attributes importance to the existence of the embassy in Minsk.

The Foreign Ministry announced in January that, for budgetary reasons, it was going to close the embassy in Belarus, the embassy in El Salvador, as well as the consulates in Philadelphia and Marseilles. In addition, Israel’s roving ambassador to the Caribbean, who is stationed in New York, is also to be cut out. The plans to do away with those missions other still remain in force, one government official said.

The decision to close the embassy in Minsk triggered a sharp reaction from Belarus, which threatened to respond by closing its own embassy in Israel. Israel closed its embassy in Minsk in 2002 but reopened it two years later.

Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman panned the decision to close the embassy in Minsk when it was first made in January, calling it a “completely crazy move, both from the political point of view as well as from the point of view of state interests.”

Liberman said that move would damage ties with Belarus, and that it would cause serious difficulties both for the 130,000 Belarus Jews living in Israel and for the Jews in the country now interested in emigrating.

The Conference of European Rabbis also criticized the move, and warned of negative repercussions as a result.

“This decision may overshadow the good relations with the growing Jewish community,” CER president Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt wrote in a letter to Netanyahu and Foreign Ministry director- general Dore Gold earlier this month.

“We are concerned about the implications, God forbid, for the remaining Jewish institutions and cemeteries where lie the great masters of Torah.”

According to the World Jewish Congress, Belarus is home to the third-largest Jewish community in the former Soviet Union, with 20,000 Jews in Minsk and 26,000 spread out across the country.

Sam Sokol contributed to this report.

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