FREE Subscription to our
just enter your email address
View Previous Issues



Cost cutting Israel shuts embassies and consulates

By Michel Zlotowski,
Paris And Jc Foreign Correspondents
Jewish Chronicle
August 2, 2002


Cost-cutting has led the Israeli Foreign Ministry to announce the closure of a number of embassies and consulates, saving it about 40 million shekels — £5.4 million — but sparking criticism from Jewish communities, and its own diplomats, overseas.

In France, the 70,000 Jews of Marseilles will soon be without an Israeli consulate. “I’m sorry to say the final decision was taken,” Israel’s Ambassador to France, Elie Barnavi, told the JC this week.

French President Jacques Chirac told visiting Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres that he “regretted” the decision to close the consulate, and urged Israel to reconsider.

On the other side of the globe, for the first time in 53 years, New Zealand will have no Israeli diplomatic mission, after the Wellington embassy closes in a few months’ time.

“The New Zealand government has already expressed its disappointment,” Ambassador Ruth Kahanoff told the JC. “There used to be four missions in the South Pacific area… Canberra, Sydney, Wellington and Suva in Fiji. Now we will be reduced to one, in Canberra. It’s very sad.”

The closure of the consulate in Sydney “will weaken Israel’s strength internationally and its links with the Jewish people worldwide,” said the present consul, Efraim Ben Matit-yahu. “It doesn’t make sense,” added Israeli Embassy spokesman Michael Ronen.

The Zimbabwe embassy is also earmarked for closure, while Brazil will soon only have two Israeli diplomatic missions — the embassy in the capital, Brasilia, where there is no Jewish community, and the consulate in São Paulo where 80,000 Jews live. The consulate in Rio, which serves a Jewish community of some 40,000, is closing.

“We’ll probably be out in two months,” Eitan Surkis, the consul-general in Rio, adding: “There is nothing that I or anyone can do.”

Israel is also shutting down its 10-year-old embassy in Belarus, despite a spate of recent vandalism against Jewish sites there.

Yakov Basin, vice-president of the Belarus Jewish community, said that he feared the closure would further fuel anti-Semitism. Some 28,000 Jews now live in Belarus.

In Canada, the consulate in Montreal — which has a Jewish population of about 100,000, the second-largest in the country — is to be closed, leaving a consular presence in Toronto and the embassy in Ottawa.

“I’m sure my colleagues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did it with a torn heart,” Consul-General Shlomo Avital told the JC, citing financial difficulties “that gave us no choice.”

But initial plans to close down several consulates in the United States — such as Houston, Philadelphia and San Francisco — have been dropped.

“In the end, the decision was taken not to close anything in the US,” said Mark Regev, Israeli Embassy spokesman in Washington.

“The United States is our closest ally and the work we do here is very, very important.”

Israel currently has 108 diplomatic missions around the world.



Diplomatic Shutdown

by Daniella Peled
Totally Jewish
July 31, 2002

Israel is set to close eight of its diplomatic missions around the world in a move that will save the foreign ministry 40m shekels (£5.5m).

Foreign ministry spokesman Amir Gissin said: “We are very unhappy that we have to take this action, but because of severe cutbacks throughout all ministries we were left with no choice.

“These closures have no bearing at all on the bilateral relations between Israel and these countries, and in many cases we will still maintain some sort of mission there.”

The news comes as prime minister Ariel Sharon declared he wants to re-establish an embassy in Vienna, two years after diplomatic links were suspended following the right-wing Freedom Party’s inclusion in the Austrian government.

Sharon said: “I have suggested to our foreign minister that we should renew our relations with Austria. The solution to this problem is not the boycott, but instead talks, demands and the mobilisation of all people who believe in democracy.''

Meanwhile, the US government has revealed that diplomatic posts in Israel are among the hardest to fill. According to a recent report, on average only two people apply for each placement, despite being offered a five per cent bonus for working in Tel Aviv and 10 per cent for Jerusalem.