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Israeli consulate will remain open, despite rumours

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The Israeli consulate serving Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, located in Westmount Square in Montreal. JEAN GAGNON PHOTO

The Israeli consulate in Montreal is not going to close, despite reports that the foreign ministry has been looking at scaling back its operations in Canada, as a means of reducing expenditures on diplomatic missions.

“Montreal is not on any short list that we are aware of,” said Peter Subissati, director of political and public affairs at the consulate, which serves both Quebec and the Atlantic provinces.

“Relations between Israel and Canada, and with Quebec in particular, following the historic missions (to Israel) of former mayor of Montreal Denis Coderre and Premier of Quebec Philippe Couillard, are optimal and nothing of the sort is on the agenda.”

After initially proposing closing down 22 diplomatic missions around the world, the foreign ministry’s 2019 budget, which was adopted by the government on Jan. 12, calls for the closure of only seven over the next few years.

In fact, a new consul general is scheduled to be in place at the consulate in Montreal by early February, said Subissati. The last consul general, Ziv Nevo Kulman, left at the end of November, after just over three years in the post, to become head cultural diplomacy at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

Nissan Amdur, Israel’s economic attache in Toronto, has been filling in as interim consul general since Nevo Kulman’s departure. Consuls general also serve as Israel’s permanent representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency based in Montreal.

The incoming consul general, David Levy, 43, has, since 2016, been a political counsellor in the Foreign Ministry’s human rights and international organizations department.

Before that, he was deputy chief of Israel’s mission in Seoul. He speaks both English and French.

He graduated with degrees in law and political science from Tel Aviv University.

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Levy served in the air force for four years as an airborne rescue and evacuation fighter. He and wife have four children.

Israel has three diplomatic offices in Canada, including the embassy in Ottawa and the consulate in Toronto, which also serves the Western provinces.

In 2002, the planned closure of the Montreal consulate was scrapped, thanks to strong opposition from the leadership of the Jewish community.

In his 2003 memoir, Leo: A Life, Leo Kolber, the right-hand man to the Bronfman family for over 30 years and later a senator, claimed that the consulate only remained open because the Jewish community promised to help fund its operations for three years.

Kolber wrote that he personally intervened with then-Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres, a close friend of the Bronfmans, to get him to change his mind.

The Jewish community has strenuously argued that an official Israeli presence in Montreal is a must, both in recognition of the city’s strong support and attachment to Israel, and because Quebec has a distinct language, culture and politics.

Cash-strapped Israeli officials, however, see a much larger population and bigger economy in Toronto, and note that Ottawa is just two hours away from Montreal.

In an interview with The CJN before he left, Nevo Kulman said he told the foreign ministry that it was imperative that the consulate remain in Montreal.

According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Israeli missions in Canada have operating costs similar to the nine in the United States, which is between US$2.3 million and US$4.4 million ($2.9 million-$5.5 million) each per year.

Under Nevo Kulman’s watch, ties were strengthened significantly between Quebec and Israel, notably through the aforementioned missions in 2016 and 2017, as well as the inauguration of direct flights between Montreal and Tel Aviv, which are serviced by Air Transat and Air Canada.

The foreign ministry’s budget was severely cut this year, which prompted it to initially plan the closure of 22 embassies and consulates.

The proposal now is to axe those in Belarus, Dublin, Asmara (Eritrea), Atlanta, Santo Domingo, Bangalore and Vilnius or Riga, beginning in 2019. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also foreign minister, will make the final decision, YNet News reported. But it cited unnamed foreign ministry sources as saying that there is hope that the proposal will be dropped and none of Israel’s 103 diplomatic missions will be closed, especially if there is an early election in the country.

In an article published in the newspaper Le Devoir after he left Montreal, Nevo Kulman suggested that Israel still has work to do in Quebec, to counter negative attitudes toward Israel among what he characterized as a “radical” minority.

He wrote that he had considerable difficulty persuading those who feel that “to support Israel betrays the solidarity between the Quebec and Palestinian peoples,” and cited a number of boycotts against Israel and himself.