The Israeli Consulate in Philadelphia will remain open, consul general Yaron Sideman told Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter at a meeting Thursday at the Jewish Community Services Building.
The announcement ended months of speculation and campaign efforts after word came that the Israeli government was considering closing the diplomatic mission. Media reports had suggested that the closure would have occurred primarily for financial reasons as the government considers opening an additional diplomatic mission in China.
Nutter, who was attending a board of trustees meeting of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia to share thoughts about his November trip to Israel, became emotional when Sideman read a letter addressed to Nutter from Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman announcing that the consulate would remain open.
"Philadelphia and Tel-Aviv are truly sister cities," Sideman read, referring to the official agreement between the two. "The shared values of our peoples can be seen in the fact that both cities served as the location for announcing the independence of our respective countries."
Before the announcement, Nutter spoke about how important the consulate was to him and how he was optimistic that it would remain open. During his trip, Nutter said he had discussed the possible closure with Israeli President Shimon Peres as well as foreign ministry officials. He said he also raised the issue with Valerie Jarrett, President Barack Obama's senior adviser, a few weeks ago when the president visited Philadelphia for a fundraiser.
"I have talked to every possible person that I can talk to about the importance of this office in Philadelphia, its signficance in our city and the respect that needs to be shown to the Jewish American community in Philadelphia as well as the city in general," he said.
Nutter and Sideman embraced and the room of more than 100 people from the Philadelphia Jewish community stood and applauded.
In the month or so since the threat of closure reached the area, local supporters of Israel had started a public campaign and political leaders such as Gov. Tom Corbett and U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey and Bob Casey, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz and Nutter sent letters to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging him to keep the consulate open.
After learning that the consulate would remain open, Richard A. Bendit, president of the Philadelphia Israel Chamber of Commerce, sent a letter stating, "Preserving an official Israeli presence in our region will help the Greater Philadelphia area maintain its leadership role in accelerating U.S.-Israeli business development, advocating pro-Israeli causes, and strengthening cultural, political and philanthropic ties between our two countries.
At an event in support of Israel Dec. 10 at Temple Sinai in Dresher, Rabbi Adam Wohlberg told a crowd of about 450 that the consulate was likely to remain open.
During the program, Corbett — who spoke before the rabbi's announcement — referred to the Israeli consulate as an "outpost of liberty."