Montreal Jews keep consulate open

MONTREAL, Sept. 4 (JTA) — Pressure from local Jewish groups has saved Israel’s consulate in Montreal from closing. Israel’s consul general, Shlomo Avital, announced that the Montreal office would not be closed next month as planned, largely due to the determined efforts of Jewish groups, local media reported Tuesday evening. “I was impressed by the overwhelming mobilization of the Jewish community,” Avital told JTA. Officials from Federation CJA, Canadian Jewish Congress, B’nai Brith Canada and Quebec’s Sephardi community all got involved in the effort to keep the consulate open, he said. “It wasn’t just the Jewish leadership that impressed me, however. I heard from officials throughout Quebec, from the provincial government, press and the intellectual arena, as well,” Avital said. Some 100,000 Jews live in Montreal. The Israeli Foreign Ministry announced it would close several embassies and consulates around the world as a cost-saving measure. The communities affected generally were outraged at the announcements, seeing it as a sign that Israel did not value their concerns. This week, for example, the Jewish community of Sydney, Australia, said it would be willing to pay to keep Israel’s consulate there open. Avital would not comment on reports that philanthropist and Montreal Jewish community leader Charles Bronfman brought his influence to bear on the Foreign Ministry. Bronfman’s clout is thought to have saved the consulate from closing four years ago, the first time the Foreign Ministry announced it would have to close the Montreal office to save money. “I can’t respond to rumors,” Avital said. Jewish groups, who had been furious over the closure plans, were delighted by Tuesday’s announcement. “It’s great news. We won this one,” said Saulie Zajdel, Quebec region director of B’nai Brith Canada. “I won’t be so presumptuous to say that we had the most influence, but I think some of our guys knew some of their ministers and we also got a lot of important people to write letters.” Asked if the community might face a similar situation the next time the Foreign Ministry needs to cut their budget, Zajdel said he thought the message had now been sent — twice. “I’d like to think that since they’ve tried twice and been turned back both times this lack of vision will not occur again,” he said. “Hopefully, the Foreign Ministry will have indelibly etched into its memory that Montreal has a very supportive community attached to it.” Even though the consulate will stay, Avital — who already has served three years in Montreal — may not. When the closure was announced, the Foreign Ministry decided to transfer Avital to Senegal, where he is scheduled to become Israel’s ambassador. “Let’s wait and see what Jerusalem decides to do,” Avital said. “It’s up to me a bit, too.” In addition to the Montreal consulate, Israel has an embassy in Ottawa and a consulate in Toronto.

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