Likud minister Akunis tapped to fill New York consul general post

Position has been empty for nearly a year following former consul’s resignation in protest of judicial reform; nomination of May Golan was withdrawn over incendiary comments

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on January 29, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on January 29, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

New York Jewish Week via JTA — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nominated Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis as next consul general in New York, his office said Monday.

Akunis, 50, is expected to leave his position as a Likud party lawmaker to take up the post in New York, one of Israel’s most important and coveted diplomatic positions.

It wasn’t immediately clear who would replace Akunis in his cabinet post. Hebrew media reports indicated that Netanyahu will give Akunis’s post to a current Likud minister.

Akunis’s appointment has not yet been approved by the cabinet or confirmed by the consulate.

The consulate has been without a permanent head since March 2023, when Asaf Zamir, who was appointed by the previous coalition, quit the post in protest of the government’s contentious effort to overhaul the judicial system.

A month after Zamir’s departure, Netanyahu offered the post to hardline Likud lawmaker May Golan. Golan made a name for herself campaigning against African asylum seekers in Tel Aviv and making incendiary statements about opponents, such as calling former lawmaker Naftali Bennett, who would later become prime minister, a “suicide bomber.”

Minister May Golan at the Knesset in Jerusalem on January 3, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Her proposed appointment sparked backlash from some Jewish leaders, former diplomats from the United States and Israel, and the US State Department. The government quietly dropped Golan’s appointment after the criticism.

Akunis is a longtime member of Likud, a former Netanyahu spokesperson, and has served as a minister under several coalitions since 2015.

The New York consulate is less prominent than the mission to the United Nations or Washington, DC, but is still a major diplomatic outpost for the Foreign Ministry, handling consular services for New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

The consul general also fosters ties with the Jewish community of New York, the largest Jewish population in the world outside of Israel.

If confirmed, Akunis will take up the position at a sensitive time, as American Jews grapple with surging antisemitism following the October 7 attack and war in Gaza, and as the Biden administration increasingly clashes with the Netanyahu government over the conflict.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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