Keep consulate in Philly

Keep consulate in Philly

A growing chorus of dignitaries is calling on the Israeli government to keep its Philadelphia consulate open, and have been doing so almost since news that it could close became public last month.

The Jerusalem Post reported Oct. 11 that Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin said the Philadelphia consulate could be closed to make way for a new diplomatic mission in China. He reportedly said Israel’s consulates in New York, Washington or even Boston could cover the Mid-Atlantic Region, which includes Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Area leaders dispute that claim.

A consular spokesman in Philadelphia has dismissed the report as “pure speculation,” but the growing numbers of public officials who are petitioning the Israeli government to keep the mission open lend fresh credence to the story.

“It is a possibility,” Gregg Roman, director of the Community Relations Council (CRC) of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, said. “I can certify that.”

CRC, according to Roman, sees the consulate as “a resource and a partner” in its own mission to promote the State of Israel.

He noted that the current consul general and his deputy have held more than 30 meetings in the area, addressing thousands of people, during their four trips to southwestern Pennsylvania since taking office last year.

“The consulate’s closure, if it happened, would be to the detriment of our mission,” Roman said.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey appealed directly to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying in a letter to the PM, “The Israeli consulate, coupled with southeastern Pennsylvania’s strong Jewish population, has long played an integral part in developing important business, artistic and political ties between the United States and Israel. The loss of the consulate in Philadelphia could unfortunately hinder future growth opportunities and partnerships.”

Toomey could just as easily have mentioned southwestern Pennsylvania, which recently hosted the Israeli economic minister to North America at a roundtable meeting with area political and business leaders to discuss business opportunities.

Gov. Tom Corbett and Senate President Joseph Scarnati have also written letters in support of the consulate.

According to the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition (PJC), the lobbying arm of the state’s federations:

• The consulate provided “guidance and information” to the state when it passed its 2009 law requiring state funds to divest its holdings in companies doing business with Iran.

• It has educated the governor, legislators and state officials on the importance of U.S. support for Israel.

• And it is cooperating with the state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) to enhance importing and exporting opportunities between Israeli and Pennsylvania businesses.

In fact, “With 25 percent of U.S.-Israel trade coming through this region, this relationship is vital to both countries’ economic interests,” PJC Chairman Matthew Handel and Executive Director Hank Butler said in a Nov. 14 letter to Netanyahu.

No one knows for sure how serious Israel is about closing the consulate, although, Roman said people he knows within the Israeli Foreign Ministry say it’s “something that is [part of] their budget planning process.”

There’s little doubt the region’s prestige, and increasingly its economy, would suffer a blow were the consulate not here, so every effort must be made to prevent that happening.