Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul will travel to Israel Feb. 11-15 for a trade-oriented mayors conference. He will also visit a group of sister cities there, and intends to advocate against a threatened closure of Israel’s Atlanta consulate, which helped to foster that relationship.

“One of the issues I hope to address with Israeli officials is the importance of the consulate office in Atlanta in facilitating travel, economic relationships and mutual understanding between the Southeastern United States,” Paul said in a written statement. “The Southeast has a strong reservoir of support for Israel and closing the consulate would cut Israel’s connection to a large population that supports Israel and its role in the world.”

Mayor Rusty Paul.

Paul is among a select group of mayors from around the world invited to attend the 32nd International Mayors Conference in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, held by the American Council for World Jewry, the American Jewish Congress and Israel’s Foreign Ministry. This year’s conference is focused on start-up and technology businesses, and the mayors will visit several of them.

Paul is also scheduled to visit the Western Galilee Cluster, 12 local authorities united under a regional government that have a sister-city relationship with Sandy Springs. He and other local officials made a formal visit there in 2015, and a Western Galilee delegation visited Sandy Springs in 2016.

The trip comes as Israel has proposed closing the Atlanta consulate, which is based in Midtown and serves the Southeast, along with other international diplomatic offices as part of a cost-cutting move, according to the Atlanta Jewish Times. The consulate escaped a previous closure proposal in 2015, but the possibility concerns local officials involved in U.S.-Israeli trade and cultural exchange.

Mayor Shlomo Bohbot, left, presents Sandy Springs City Manager
John McDonough with a gift from Israel’s Western Galilee Cluster during a 2016 visit. (File/City of Sandy Springs)

“If this is to happen, it is going to be very impactful on the region and will reduce our access to partnerships with the Israel government,” said Guy Tessler, president of Conexx, a Sandy Springs-based organization that helps American and Israeli businesses network with each other and helped to establish the Western Galilee sister-city program. “It will also be a blow to the place’s prestige in the eye of Israeli business as one of the most important U.S. centers.”

Tessler said the closure discussions are a “three-year process that make take many twists and turns before action will be taken.” He noted the consulate survived the previous closure proposal and said Conexx will follow the consulate’s lead in any advocacy for it to remain in operation.

The top-end Perimeter and Buckhead areas are home to many consulates and similar offices that, officials say, play an important role in connecting local small businesses to international trade.

For Paul’s trip, the city is paying for airfare and one night’s stay at a cost of $1,609, according to city spokesperson Sharon Kraun. The remainder of his travel expenses will be covered by the Israeli government, she said.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.