Dear Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:
I wish to express my concerns about Israel’s recent decision to close the Israeli Consulate of Philadelphia (Mid-Atlantic Region) office. I have had the good fortune to work with Consul General Daniel Kutner, Lou Balcher and other Consulate staff while working for the Columbus Jewish Federation. More recently, as president of the Jewish Federation of Reading, I, the Reading Jewish community and Israel have greatly benefited from the leadership, advice and support extended through the efforts of Consul General Yaron Sideman, Hillel Zaremba and other team members. In a time of shifting U.S. Jewish-Israel relations, they have provided invaluable service in helping our Jewish federations anticipate and respond to difficult situations and discussions.
Although I understand the driving force of economics, I am hard pressed to understand how closing of the Philadelphia Consulate’s office will create benefits for the perception of Israel here in the U.S. Having lived in Ohio and now in Eastern Pennsylvania, I know the significant differences between East Coast and large-city inhabitants’ expectations and attitudes and those held by Midwesterners and small-community residents. Consulate General Kutner came several times to Columbus in the four-year period I worked there to help nurture better relations with the Columbus Jewish and non-Jewish communities and, as important, with the Jewish student population at Ohio State University.
In the short two years I have been in Reading, Consulate General Sideman spoke at a large gathering here, and I have been to the Philadelphia office several times to learn from specific programs given, receive materials and get the advice of Hillel Zaremba and staff. In our electronic world, face-to-face meetings and development of relationships are of paramount importance.
As a Federation executive, working to explain, educate and increase our region’s understanding and appreciation for Israel is one of many kipas I wear. Twenty-nine percent of our discretionary fund allocations go to support Israeli organizations, JAFI and JDC. Close connection to Israel and world Jewry is a key element in raising funds to support these expenditures.
A positive, reoccurring and nearby Israel presence helps make this possible. Adding Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Delaware, West Virginia and Southern New Jersey to the overburdened New York City office will not provide the necessary time or thought to continue these efforts.
One of the things I’ve admired about your administration is your willingness to reconsider and reverse decisions. I hope that you will see the pitfalls of closing the Philadelphia office and support its continuation.
William D. Franklin
Jewish Federation of Reading