The Israeli government’s preliminary decision to close its consulate in Atlanta is shockingly shortsighted and disappointing, especially coming less than 2½ years after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to be persuaded to spare the diplomatic mission from an earlier round of budget-related closures.
Once more, we’re forced to list the reasons Israel needs Atlanta at least as much as Atlanta needs Israel:
- Metro Atlanta has one of the 10 largest Jewish communities in North America.
- Greater Atlanta has as many as 15,000 Israelis.
- More than 40 Israeli companies have national or regional headquarters in Georgia (a big reason for the large Israeli community).
- As the capital of the New South, Atlanta is the heart of the nation’s largest concentration of evangelical Christians, the most important non-Jewish, pro-Israel group of Americans.
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest, provides easy access for businesspeople and diplomats alike to just about anyone anywhere.
- Atlanta is a strong contender for Amazon’s HQ2. Israel’s closest consulate to Amazon’s main headquarters is roughly 800 miles away in San Francisco. With the increasing influence of the e-commerce leader in business, cloud computing, home automation and even the news people get, Israel would be wise to have professional advocates close to one of its bases.
The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra recognized the importance of Atlanta and the surrounding states served by the consulate here when it agreed to celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday with a tour at the invitation of Consul General Judith Varnai Shorer, who helped save the consulate in 2015. In addition to phone (404-487-6500) and email (firstname.lastname@example.org) messages of support to the consulate, for forwarding on to Jerusalem, donations to ensure the orchestra makes the tour would help make Atlanta’s case.
Closing the Atlanta consulate would leave Israeli diplomats in two California cities (Los Angeles and San Francisco), two Northeastern cities (Boston and New York), two cities that in their own ways are cut off from the rest of the country (Washington and Miami), and two cities that essentially would cover all the U.S. interior (Chicago and Houston).
That’s a crazy setup for Israel, a nation that is under constant criticism and relies on a close relationship with the United States.
It’s understandable when Israelis ignore Diaspora criticism of what they perceive as entirely domestic issues, even though we think it’s reasonable for the Jewish people wherever they are to weigh in on matters within the Jewish state that affect and often reflect on Jews who don’t live in Israel. Those issues range from the Western Wall and conversion policy to efforts to make peace with the Palestinians.
But our Israeli cousins would be wise to listen to us locals when it comes to Diaspora diplomacy. If Israel wants to maintain an edge against its foes in the hearts and minds of elected officials, business leaders and everyday residents of the growing, thriving Southeast, it needs to be like more than two dozen other nations and keep a consulate in Atlanta.