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Netanyahu reportedly planning landmark Australia visit

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SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – Benjamin Netanyahu is set to become the first Israeli prime minister to visit Australia while in office.

Media reports in Australia and Israel on Wednesday suggested that Netanyahu would spend one week in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne in mid-July following an invitation by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott when the pair met in Davos, Switzerland, in January.

The Israeli Embassy in Canberra could not confirm the reports because its staff is part of a strike at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Philip Chester, president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, cautioned that plans are still “tentative” but expressed excitement at the prospective visit.

“The fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu is prepared to take a significant period of time away from home traveling to Australia with all of the critical issues that he has to deal with speaks highly of the regard with which Australia is held as a staunch friend of the State of Israel,” he told JTA.

Netanyahu last visited Australia in 2001, when he opened Chabad Rabbi Joseph Gutnick’s new synagogue, which Gutnick built as a replica of the Chabad headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Since its election last year, Abbott’s Liberal Party has realigned Australia with Canada as one of Israel’s staunchest allies in the international arena following six years of Labor rule, when bilateral ties were at times turbulent.

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