Montreal’s Israeli Consulate to Close, Angering City’s Jews

The Israeli Consulate in Montreal will be closed due to Israeli Foreign Ministry funding cuts, though consulates in the United States will escape the budget knife.

“In the end, the decision was taken not to close anything in the United States of America,” said Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

The budget ax fell on consulates in Montreal and three other cities, and on four embassies around the world.

The final decisions came after a series of news reports had circulated for days that several consulates in the United States — including Houston, Philadelphia and San Francisco — also would close.

“The idea was not to close anything in the U.S., because the United States is our closest ally and the work we do here is very, very important,” Regev said.

This was not the first time that news of an impending budget crisis in Israel’s Foreign Ministry stirred talk that consulates in the United States would be shut. Back in 1996, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slated 16 diplomatic missions for closure.

At that time, too, the Philadelphia and San Francisco missions were reported to be slated for closure, but they were not included in the final list.

Members of Montreal’s Jewish community reacted strongly to news of the mission’s fate. Considered one of the strongest Jewish communities in the Diaspora — and an unwavering supporter of Israel, both morally and financially, since the state’s birth — Montreal Jews took the decision as a slap in the face.

It is the second major blow to Israel-Montreal relations in recent years, after El Al relocated its chief Canadian office from Montreal to Toronto. The airline also ended direct flights from Montreal to Tel Aviv.

Joseph Gabay, president of the Quebec region of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said Montreal’s consul general, Shlomo Avital, has always been “a part of the Montreal Jewish community’s events, and we cannot imagine holding such events without his presence.”

Saulie Zajdel, regional director of B’nai Brith Canada Quebec, predicted the closure would have terrible ramifications for the community.

“We are exceedingly disappointed by this decision and are writing letters to the Israeli Foreign Ministry strongly urging them to reconsider,” Zajdel said. “They are ignoring the important French fact of this province, in the overall context of our country, and this sends the wrong message to the people of Quebec and Canada.”

Montreal’s Jewish population has decreased during the past decade, in part because of worries over a surge in French nationalism.

Zajdel said he has received “quite a few” calls from community members voicing their displeasure with the move.

“This community needs the formal presence of the government of Israel in its midst, playing a vital role,” he said. “We have been such staunch supporters of Israel, day in and day out, and we boast one of the highest percentages of Jews in North America who have actually been to Israel. This is a very short-sighted decision on Israel’s part.”

In Washington, Regev expressed regret that closures were necessary, and said the Israeli Embassy in Ottawa and the consulate in Toronto would pick up the slack left by the Montreal closure.

“It’s truly a pity that we have to close it,” Regev said. “The work will have to be done through our other consulates in Canada and through the embassy.”

A staffer at the Israeli Consulate in New York said that while “nobody has the nuts and bolts” of why certain missions are being shuttered, speculation centered around “cost-effectiveness.”

“A lot of consideration is given to closing a consulate in San Francisco, for example, when you have a large one in Los Angeles, and maybe they could absorb the extra work,” the staffer said.

Were budget cuts to come down in the future, she added, “we here in New York, which has a large staff, could absorb the work of the consulate in Philadelphia.”

But Ami Nahshon, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay near San Francisco, said that reasoning didn’t hold for Northen California.

The Northen California region, which begins in Fresno and includes Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska, “is one of the most difficult and challenging environments for Israel anywhere in the United States,” he said.

With anti-Israel sentiment running strong at the University of California at Berkeley, and at the University of San Francisco, Jewish professionals and Israel supporters feel “embattled” and “responsible for carrying forward the basic message of Israel’s right of survival.”

While Israeli officials may feel that they should “write off the Bay Area” because of the strong anti-Israel activism, Nahshon said the area sets political and social trends for the rest of the country and should not be ignored.

Other missions slated to be closed include the embassies in Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Panama and Belarus, and consulates in Marseille, France, Rio de Janeiro and Sydney, Australia.

“This is not good, but this is the least bad we could do,” Regev said.

The move is expected to save more than $8.5 million.

“Obviously, we don’t want to close anything,” Regev said. “But with cutbacks in” Israeli “social security, hospitals and schools, you can’t say the foreign service has to be immune.”

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