Israel’s ‘other’ embassy in Georgia Republic gives official embassy headache

When Beit Yisrael was inaugurated, those in attendance included then-Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel Ze’ev Elkin.

By World Israel News Staff 

If you check the official Israel Government page for the country’s embassy in the Republic of Georgia, you will come upon the name and photograph of Shabtai Tsur, himself born in Vani, Georgia.

It says that he has served in the position since July 2016.

However, about a 12-minute drive away in the capital city Tbilisi, there is a second Israeli embassy of sorts, reports Yediot Ahronot.

It’s not an official embassy but gets a lot of attention from Israelis in official positions, says the news outlet.

It’s called Beit Yisrael (“Israeli House”) and hosts economic forums, holds academic events, issues position papers, maintains ties with the local media, and is even visited by Israeli MKs and Georgian politicians, according to the report.

Beit Yisrael is run by 60-year-old Itsik Moshe, born in a small Georgian Jewish town. He moved to Israel when he was 10 years old and returned to his original country in the 1990s, establishing the first branch of the Jewish Agency for Israel in the former Soviet Union, notes the Israeli daily.

He was involved in the immigration to Israel of about half-a-million Jews, including some 40,000 from Georgia, says Yediot Ahronot.

In 2012, when Georgia voted with European Union states to upgrade the Palestinians to observer status at the U.N., Moshe decided that he had to get involved in explaining Israel’s case to his former country, though doing it on a private basis.

Moshe is said to privately finance his campaign, which, according to the report, costs $200,000 annually to operate.

When Beit Yisrael was inaugurated, those in attendance included then-Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel Ze’ev Elkin, who was also born in the Soviet Union – currently, Ukraine.

Georgian government ministers are also said to have attended.

Moshe said that he believed the way to teach Georgians about the “real” Israel was to have them understand that if they became friendlier with the Jewish State, there were would be a dividend of Israeli assistance in the areas of hi-tech, investment and tourism, among other spheres.

Moshe insists that he wishes to operate in tandem with the Israeli embassy and invites Ambassador Tsur to all events at Beit Yisrael, but he bemoans that there is a disconnect, says Yediot Ahronot.

He told the paper, “We feel that in every activity there is a deliberate interference on the part of the official representatives of Israel. When I invite members of the Knesset to Georgia, the ambassador exerts pressure on them. Moshe emphasizes that he invites the ambassador to all events in an official letter.”

The formal embassy’s disapproval hasn’t stopped 20 MKs from visiting Beit Yisrael, members of both the government coalition and the opposition. He has also visited the Knesset.

Moshe argues that he does gain financial profit from his pro-Israel operation, and although he is a businessman, he says, there is no conflict of interest.

His hope is that when the current official ambassador soon concludes his term, relations between the official and unofficial Israeli embassies in Tbilisi will improve.