Netanyahu selects Likud minister Ofir Akunis for Israel’s top diplomatic post in NYC


(New York Jewish Week) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu selected Ofir Akunis, a minister in his Likud party, as the next consul general in New York.

Akunis, 50, is expected to leave his position as science and technology minister to take up the post in New York, one of Israel’s most important and coveted diplomatic positions. It wasn’t immediately clear who would replace Akunis in his cabinet post.

Netanyahu’s office announced his decision to appoint Akunis on Monday, Israeli media reports said. The appointment has not yet been approved by the cabinet or confirmed by the consulate.

The consulate has been without a permanent head since March 2023, when Asaf Zamir, who was appointed by the previous coalition, quit the post in protest of the government’s contentious effort to overhaul the Israeli judicial system.

The month after Zamir’s departure, Netanyahu offered the post to hardline Likud lawmaker May Golan. Golan made a name for herself campaigning against African asylum seekers in Tel Aviv and making incendiary statements about opponents, such as calling former lawmaker Naftali Bennett, who would later become prime minister, a “suicide bomber.”

Her proposed appointment sparked backlash from some Jewish leaders, former diplomats from the United States and Israel, and the State Department. The Israeli government quietly dropped Golan’s appointment after the criticism.

Akunis is a longtime member of Likud, a former Netanyahu spokesperson, and has served as a minister under several Israeli coalitions since 2015.

The New York consulate is less prominent than the mission to the United Nations or Washington, D.C., but is still a major diplomatic outpost for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, handling consular services for New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

The consul general also fosters ties with the Jewish community of New York, the largest Jewish population in the world outside of Israel. If confirmed, Akunis will take up the position at a sensitive time, as American Jews grapple with surging antisemitism following the Oct. 7 attack and war in Gaza, and as the Biden administration increasingly clashes with the Netanyahu government over the conflict.