European rabbis condemn closure of Belarus embassy in letter to Netanyahu

“This decision may overshadow the good relations with the growing Jewish community,” CER President Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt wrote.

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March 3, 2016 17:13
2 minute read.
Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu . (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

 
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BOSTON – The Conference of European Rabbis weighed in on Jerusalem’s decision to close its embassy in Belarus, complaining of what it believes are the negative repercussions of the decision on the local Jewish community.

“This decision may overshadow the good relations with the growing Jewish community,” CER President Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt wrote in his letter Wednesday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold.

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“We are concerned about the implications, G-d 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.

Nearly 60,000 Jews immigrated to Israel from Belarus since 1989.

Israel announced the closure of its Minsk embassy in January as part of an extensive cost-cutting program that would see the closing of five of its 106 foreign representations, including in Philadelphia and Marseilles.

Belarus reacted harshly to the decision, announcing it was “forced to take a series of measures to terminate the activities of its diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv based on the principle of reciprocity.”



A Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman was reported saying that Israel was making a mistake, recalling that Jerusalem had closed its embassy in Minsk already once before – in 2003 – only to reopen it a year later.

“We are confident that the relations between Belarus and Israel at the ambassadorial level is an objective necessity, and the resumption of their activities is only a matter of time,” he was quoted as saying.

In response, Israeli officials countered that the closure was neither a reflection of the importance it attributes to ties with Belarus nor an attempt to harm those ties, but only a cost-saving measure.

Last month, 36 members of the local Jewish community sent a letter to Netanyahu complaining that there were many Jews in their country who had plans to make their future in Israel as well as many Israeli citizens who travel there and will be left without a place to turn for services.

“We feel that we were left to fend for ourselves,” they wrote. “The question is what Israel will say when they have problems with documents or local authorities and will have to rely on their own strength.”

Herb Keinon contributed to this report.

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