Israel’s Shift from West to East and its Implications for American Jewry

Steven Windmueller, Ph. D.

Posted on January 11, 2016 / 1 Shevat 5776

Written by Steven Windmueller, Ph. D.

The skyline of Philadelphia, a city where Israel is closing its consulate. Credit: Jeffrey M. Vinocur via Wikimedia Commons.

The skyline of Philadelphia, a city where Israel is closing its consulate. Credit: Jeffrey M. Vinocur via Wikimedia Commons.

Last week, the media carried what on the surface appeared to be an insignificant story on the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s announcement of plans to shut down its Philadelphia consulate, along with four other closings involving embassy and consulate services in the Caribbean and Europe.

But upon a second reading of this news, it appears to be a much larger story! We are re-minded that Philadelphia represents the sixth-largest Jewish community in the United States, with an estimated population of 214,000 (Berman Jewish DataBank). Beyond its historic importance to America and to the Jewish community, Philadelphia is the seventh-largest metropolitan area in the country, with more than 7.5 million people.

In the same announcement, the government of Israel indicated that it was opening a new consulate in Chengdu, China. One needs only to note a few key facts about this major metropolitan area, as it represents the fifth-largest city in China and has become the eco-nomic engine for Western China. Some 260 of the Fortune 500 list’s corporations have offices in that city. Beyond these core numbers, Chengdu is a major rail center and its airport ranks among the busiest in the world.

But this story has more significant implications. Israel, it would appear, is in the process of reshaping its political relationships, and in turn its economic focus. China is Israel’s third-largest trading partner (after the U.S. and Europe) and its largest business partner in Asia. Israeli-Chinese trade increased from $50 million in 1992 to more than $10 billion in 2013 (Jewish Virtual Library). Possibly more important than these numbers has been the rapid and continuous growth in Sino-Israeli relations that today involves a wide array of products in the agricultural, pharmaceutical, and technological areas.

America and its Jewish community were once seen as Israel’s political connection and economic access point. In today’s global economy, with its changing political equations involving Israel’s complex and shifting relationships both with Washington and other international partners, are we witnessing a reconfiguration of how the current government in Jerusalem perceives its long-term interests and economic connections?

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