Local supporters of Israel have launched a public campaign to keep the Israeli consulate in Philadelphia open — even though it is not clear that it’s actually slated to close.
News reports from Israel have said the Israeli Foreign Ministry is considering the action since Israel is represented in nearby Boston, Washington, D.C., and New York, and any of those sites could cover the region now under the Philadelphia office’s jurisdiction.
This is not the first time in the last few decades that Philadelphia’s consulate, which also serves the Mid-Atlantic region, has been threatened with closure, but it never came to pass.
The main reason given for the possible closure is financial, according to the Jerusalem Post, with the money saved likely used to open an additional diplomatic mission in China.
An open letter sent by Richard A. Bendit, president of the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, hopes to alert supporters of the State of Israel about the matter and beseeches them to petition the Foreign Ministry to keep the consulate open.
It also suggests sending a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or contacting him through the prime minister’s website.
Bendit stressed that closing the consulate would not only do damage to Philadelphia, one of the largest centers in the American Jewish community, but also to Israel, “its citizens, institutions and businesses.” The Greater Philadelphia region, he said, "plays a key role in accelerating U.S.-Israeli business development, advocating pro-Israeli causes, and strengthening cultural, political and philanthropic ties between our countries."
On Oct. 17, the American Jewish Committee sent a letter — signed by local leadership — to Israel's Foreign Ministry that also made the case that the consulate plays a vital role here.
Marcia Bronstein, executive director of AJC's Philadelphia chapter, said there are about 600,000 Jews within the Philadelphia consulate's catchment area.
"We shared in our letter that our region is one of the largest and most important Jewish centers in the United States," said Bronstein. "We asked them to reconsider and take Philadelphia off the table."
She pointed out that Philadelphia is a center of diplomatic activity with over 30 career and honary consuls serving in the region and the Israeli consulate is an important part of the mix. She added that there is a "boisterous" boycott, sanctions and divestment movement in the region and the Philadelphia consul plays a key role in combatting those efforts.
In an interview, Josh Cline, a local businessman who’s helping to get the word out to the public, said that “depending on who you talk to in Israeli inner circles,” the closure is not conjecture but something serious.
The only way to convince the Israelis to keep the consulate open, he continued, is to bring community and international pressure to bear.
“We are trying to gather support with the press release and on social media,” Cline said. “We are trying to put as much pressure as we can to keep Philadelphia open. It is also vital to help Israelis and people from the U.S. understand what the mission of the consulate is.”
Yaron Sideman, consul general of Philadelphia, declined to comment on the matter until something official came his way.