Ambassador Judith Varnai Shorer didn’t have to come to the United States to take a position as Israel’s consul general to the Southeast in what many anticipate will be the final foreign posting of a distinguished, four-decade diplomatic career.
During a visit to the Atlanta Jewish Times offices Wednesday, Sept. 9, part of her extensive rounds to get to know the Jewish community since arriving in late July, Shorer said she considered Shanghai at one point. But the former ambassador to both Hungary and Bosnia-Herzegovina had her heart set on a return to the United States.
“I love America,” she said. “I served here many years in New York and Washington. I wanted to come here.”
Atlanta was the only U.S. opening, so here she came.
Her husband, Oded, who is working in the consulate, has local history: He earned a bachelor’s degree from Georgia State University.
It’s a new experience for their 10½-year-old daughter, Roni, who is in the fifth grade at the Epstein School. The choice of a Jewish day school, rather than a secular private school such as the Atlanta International School, was important to Shorer: “I wanted for Roni a good school. It’s a Jewish school. … My Roni’s going to a Jewish school.”
Despite the occasional tears and homesickness, Shorer said her daughter is settling in well.
As for Shorer, it has been a dizzying first month and a half on the job, even after all that experience in the United States and a visit with her predecessor, Opher Aviran, in January.
It has also been a wet time.
“Why do you need so much rain?” said Shorer, whose hometown of Beer Sheva is in the arid Negev. “Whenever I see the green everywhere, I could die out of jealousy. Everything is green.”
She arrived in the middle of the 60-day congressional review period for the Iran nuclear deal. The Buckhead apartment her family inherited from the Avirans required three weeks of renovations. She was waiting for the arrival of her shipping container, packed with 262 boxes of her belongings; she acknowledged bringing too many things.
Just as she was beginning to attend meet-and-greet events with organizations such as Jewish National Fund, word came from Jerusalem about the plan to close the consulate, as well as those in Philadelphia and San Francisco and the embassies in several small nations.
She began to fight the closing, including getting Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to join other Southern elected officials in sending letters of support for the consulate to the prime minister.
“Usually I’m not too shy,” Shorer said.
Then it was time for her first trip to Israel with a delegation in late August. The 18-member Tennessee delegation was led by Gov. Bill Haslam, who Shorer said got an instant lesson in Middle East geography in the Golan Heights.
His reaction, she said: “I looked down, and then I understood.”
Next up for her role as Israeli tour guide: a delegation from Mississippi, providing the opportunity to win more support for the consulate while stabilizing political support for Israel and perhaps drumming up some business.
As for the threat to close the consulate under budget cuts to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Shorer said she will fight as long as is necessary to keep it open. People who want to join her in that battle should let Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office know how they feel.
Consulate Not Dead Yet
Ambassador Judith Varnai Shorer took her case for the survival of the Israeli Consulate straight to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during her recent trip home with a delegation from Tennessee, including Gov. Bill Haslam.
The new consul general to the Southeast didn’t hold back on her trademark candor when given a chance to speak to her boss — Netanyahu is serving as his own foreign minister in the new government — who is someone she has known for a long time.
During a visit to the Atlanta Jewish Times offices Wednesday, Sept. 9, Shorer made clear that she has no intention of being the last Israeli diplomat to serve in this city. She said closing the consulate in the South makes no sense.
“I was shocked,” she said, when the proposed budget calling for the closure of the consulate and several other diplomatic missions was announced in August. The budget passed a first vote in the Knesset in early September but now must go through committee reviews before a final vote in November.
She’s hopeful that the obvious value of the consulate will win out, but “no one knows what will happen.”