Israels S.F. consulate is on a list of possible closures

A handful of Israeli diplomatic missions, possibly including the consulate in San Francisco, are expected to close next year amid budget cuts.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry has drafted a list of 16 diplomatic missions abroad for potential closure, in reaction to supplementary budget cuts that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Cabinet approved last week. Ten of the offices will be eliminated.

Though S.F.-based Consul General for the Pacific Northwest Nimrod Barkan acknowledged Monday that diplomatic missions around the world will close, he would not comment on whether San Francisco is on the list, nor would he discuss any potential closure.

In past years, similar talk has surfaced about closing the San Francisco consulate, usually along with discussion of closing the Philadelphia consulate.

Both consulates operate near bigger metropolitan areas with larger missions — Philadelphia between New York and Washington, San Francisco north of Los Angeles.

Israel's Foreign Ministry has been ordered to cut $13.7 million — 5 percent of its overall budget — making it one of the hardest-hit ministries on a percentage basis. There are indications that Foreign Minister David Levy will not contest the cut, since he has been among the most vocal advocates of cutting budget sections that will not hurt poor Israelis.

Foreign Ministry officials say the final decision on which missions abroad will be closed will be made by Foreign Ministry Director-General Eitan Bentsur, amid consultations with the relevant regional and administrative ministry bureaus.

One consideration is whether the closing of one diplomatic mission will mean that the area can be covered by a nonresident ambassador in the vicinity.

The S.F.-based consulate covers a wide territory ranging from Alaska to Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington state. In California its area runs as far south as Fresno.

Many key lawmakers in Congress, such as Democratic California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, have Northern California home bases, making the Bay Area a key consular territory. The area also includes Silicon Valley, where the Israeli Ministry of Industry and Trade operates an economic mission.

Israel's Los Angeles consulate also covers a wide area that runs to Arizona, and operates a full agenda.

While the list of 16 has not been officially disclosed, officials say they believe at least the following embassies are on the proposed list: Angola, Belarus, Bolivia, Burma, Dominican Republic, Georgia, Nepal, New Zealand, Panama, and Paraguay. Among the consulates believed to be under consideration are those in San Francisco, Philadelphia and Shanghai.

The Shanghai diplomatic mission was only opened a few years ago.

Two years ago, the closing of embassies in Bolivia and Paraguay was prevented amid indications by the host countries that they would move their respective embassies to Jerusalem. However, in apparent fear of Arab reaction, the two moved their embassies to Mevasseret Yerushalayim, a Jerusalem suburb.

During the last round of budget cuts a few years ago, Israel decided not to close embassies in Costa Rica and El Salvador, since both host countries have embassies in Jerusalem. Israel also spared its embassy in Ecuador, since like El Salvador the nation has purchased Israeli Kfir fighter jets, which require continuous contacts and visits by Israeli personnel.

Israel has approximately 100 diplomatic missions in the world. In recent years, it has closed embassies in Fiji, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Liberia, Malawi and Swaziland. It also closed consulates in Milan and Zurich.