Israel may be closing trade missions in Finland and Sweden to open others in China, India and Hong Kong, but it is not yet closing its consulate in Philadelphia to open one in Chengdu.
Israel’s consul-general in Philadelphia, Yaron Sideman, read a letter from Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman at a Philadelphia Jewish Federation board of trustees meeting on Friday announcing that the consulate there would remain open.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter was at the meeting.
Nutter was in Israel on a trade mission last month and according to the local Philadelphia press urged Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres to keep the office open.
Officials in Jerusalem said his intervention had an impact.
Last month 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.
According to Richard Bendit, the president of the chamber, approximately 25 percent 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.
Earlier this year Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin discussed the possibility of closing the Philadelphia office in order to open one in Chengdu, one of China’s most important financial and communications hubs, because of budgetary reasons. The consulate in Chengdu opened earlier this year.
Elkin argued that Israel had ample representation in nearby Boston, Washington and New York, which could cover the region now under the Philadelphia consulate’s jurisdiction.
Elkin’s idea came up against significant push-back inside the Foreign Ministry, with officials arguing that while it was important to open another consulate in China, it should not be at the expense of closing one in the US.
Now that the decision was made to keep the consulate in Philadelphia open, consultations are under way inside the ministry looking for another embassy or consulate to close in its place. One likely candidate, according to diplomatic officials, is the embassy in El Salvador.
Israel, in addition to its embassy in Beijing and the new consulate in Chengdu, also has missions in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
Over the years Israel has closed and opened the doors to various embassies and consulates around the world, depending on budgetary constraints and the changing diplomatic landscape.