Closing Israeli consulate in US in order to open mission in China?

Foreign ministry debates whether to close Philadelphia consulate to free up funds for new diplomatic mission in Chengdu, China.

Philadelphia skyline 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Philadelphia skyline 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
No decision is imminent on closing the Israeli Consulate in Philadelphia, or a consulate or embassy in another country, to make possible the opening of a diplomatic mission in Chengdu, a spokeswoman for Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin said on Wednesday.
The spokeswoman was responding to a Walla story on Wednesday saying that Elkin disagreed with senior ministry staffers who wanted to keep Philadelphia open and – if need be for budgetary purposes – close a consulate or even an embassy elsewhere.
Elkin said recently in a ministry meeting discussing the issue that while important, the Philadelphia consulate could be closed because Israel had ample representation in nearby Boston, Washington and New York, which could cover the region now under the Philadelphia consulate’s jurisdiction.
In addition to the embassy in Washington, Israel has consulates in nine US cities: New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
One ministry official said Israel would send a bad diplomatic message if it closed a consulate in the US in order to open one in China.
In addition to its embassy in Beijing and the consulate to open in Chengdu, Israeli has missions in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
Chengdu, a city of some 14 million people, is the capital of Sichuan province, and one of China’s most important financial and communications centers.
There is no debate inside the Foreign Ministry about whether another consulate should be opened in China, a country with which Israel is seeking to significantly deepen its relationship. The question is only what to close to free up the necessary funds.
The official also asked why there was a need for an embassy in Belarus, a country shunned by much of the West, or a consulate in St. Petersburg. Both those mission were opened under the term of former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, and represented an effort to put more of a diplomatic emphasis on countries of the former Soviet Union.
The official also suggested that Israel would be better off closing its consulate in Marseilles, rather than in Philadelphia.
“Why not close the embassy in Albania, or El Salvador,” he continued. “Do we really need embassies there? Do I need boots on the ground in El Salvador, can’t that be covered by a non-resident ambassador from Guatemala.”
Elkin was quoted in the Walla report as having told an internal ministry meeting that with Israel fighting a number of battles in international forums, it was important for Israel’s flag to fly in as many capitals as possible.
It was impossible to tell whether in a year or two Israel might not need the assistance in the UN or elsewhere of the country where it closed its embassy.
MK Nachman Shai (Labor), who heads the Knesset caucus on US-Israel relations, said the Philadelphia Consulate should not be closed.
“Israel should be adding more consulates in the US, not closing them, even though we also need more consulates in China,” he said.
“We are in the middle of an important struggle for support in the US. Closing it now would harm that effort.”
Another MK, who asked to be named, said in reference to Elkin that Russian immigrants were less US-centric and did not understand the importance of the American Jewish community.
Over the years Israel has closed and opened the doors to various embassies and consulates around the world depending on budgetary constraints and changing diplomatic realities.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.