SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – Benjamin Netanyahu canceled his upcoming visit to Australia, which would have marked the first time a sitting Israeli prime minister had ever visited the country.
The Zionist Federation of Australia confirmed Wednesday that it had been informed by the Israeli Embassy in Canberra that Netanyahu’s visit, which was scheduled for mid-July, would not take place.
Israeli media reported that Netanyahu had canceled the visit “in light of recent developments,” but did not specifically refer to the kidnapping last week of three Israeli teens.
The ZFA had been planning several high-profile events in Sydney and Melbourne. Netanyahu also was scheduled to visit Canberra, where he was expected to be honored at an official reception.
“It’s a shame because he would have had an enormous impact,” ZFA President Dr. Danny Lamm told JTA. “We know the community has a great interest in hearing him and seeing him, and there would have been throngs attending.”
Referring to Netanyahu’s relationship with Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Lamm added, “He would have recognized from Israel’s point of view the strong support he receives from Australia. I’m hopeful it will happen, but at a later date.”
Meanwhile, more than 1,000 Jews in Sydney and Melbourne gathered Monday night for services to pray for the safe return of the three kidnapped Israeli teens.
In Sydney, hundreds came to Moriah College, where Shlomo Amar, Israel’s former Sephardi chief rabbi, addressed the crowd representing a broad spectrum of the Jewish community.
“This is a time of divine mercy when the Jewish people are entirely united in prayer and concern for the well-being of the missing boys,” said Amar, who was in Australia on a visit. “We must scream out and ask God to remove the yoke of bitter exile from amongst the Jewish people.”
Rabbi Benji Levy said the service was recorded and would be sent to Israel as an act of solidarity.
‘This isn’t a Jewish issue, this is a human rights issue,” he said.
In Melbourne, the Rabbinical Council of Victoria and the Council of Orthodox Synagogues of Victoria coordinated a prayer service at Caulfield Hebrew Congregation.
“These three young boys, teenage students, Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel were kidnapped, not because they are Israelis, not because of land issues, occupied or otherwise, or housing, or East or West Jerusalem, or one- or two- or 10-state solutions – they were kidnapped because they are Jewish, pure and simple,” said Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant, president of the Organization of Rabbis of Australasia.