The Israeli Consulate General to the Southeast is under attack, but not from proponents of the Iran nuclear deal or the Palestinian-flag-waving crowd that emerges periodically. Instead, as we reported Aug. 21, the consulate in Atlanta is threatened by its own government.
The irony is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies have made the consulates here and in Philadelphia and San Francisco, along with several embassies in smaller nations, more important than ever while his politics are putting them on the budgetary chopping block.
During his 6½ years in power, Netanyahu has refused to yield an inch or make any compromise in foreign policy, most notably in unleashing the military in Gaza in 2012 and 2014 in response to Hamas provocations and in rallying opposition to Iran’s nuclear program.
His positions and his decisions have been right far more than they have been wrong, but Netanyahu is viewed around the world as a hard-liner, an obstructionist or a warmonger. As a result, Israel is more isolated than ever.
The Palestinians have found increasing support for U.N. recognition and other international steps toward statehood. The Iranians have a deal that will give them hundreds of billions of dollars and permission to develop ballistic missiles in exchange for waiting a decade before building nuclear weapons.
More than ever, Israel needs its professional diplomats to tell its story and develop friendships. Those friends could cast crucial votes in the United Nations someday or ensure the future of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
While Netanyahu was gaining little in making his Iran case before the U.N. General Assembly and U.S. Congress, the Israeli Consulate in Atlanta was making progress in state legislatures. Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Mississippi enacted laws mandating divestment from Iran during the tenures of Consuls General Opher Aviran and Reda Mansour, and Tennessee is likely to act next year.
That’s the kind of grass-roots influence Israel needs more of, not less of.
But Netanyahu has a governing coalition with only 61 of the Knesset’s 120 seats. So tough and uncompromising on the international stage, he must cater to the whims of every Cabinet minister at home. The only ministry without an advocate is the Foreign Ministry because Netanyahu has no foreign minister except himself.
When it came time to craft a budget, the demands piled up. Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev vowed to vote against the budget and sink the government unless her agency got a big boost. It did: an additional 50 million shekels ($12.75 million) this year and next year in the proposed budget, which calls for closing the consulates and embassies to help cut 55 million shekels a year from the Foreign Ministry.
Just as Israel has historically been outnumbered on the military battlefield, so today it is outnumbered on the diplomatic battlefield. Iran, for example, has diplomats in 167 countries to Israel’s 100 before the budget cuts.
We in Atlanta see firsthand the crucial work the consulate does, yet few people have taken even the simple step of emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to argue for its survival. Please make a New Year’s resolution to help save the consulate and email letters of support. It’s the easiest thing you’ll do in 5775 or 5776 to help Israel.