Tony Abbott, staunch Israel backer, wins Australian premiership


SYDNEY (JTA) — Tony Abbott, a staunch supporter of Israel, was elected the country’s new prime minister of Australia.

Abbott’s conservative Liberal Party won a convincing and expected victory on Saturday, sweeping the Labor government from its six-year term leading the government. Kevin Rudd conceded defeat late Saturday.

Led by Abbott — a surf lifesaver and volunteer firefighter who once trained to be a Catholic priest — the Liberals are expected to have more than 90 seats in the new parliament to 55 for Labor.

Several of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives are yet to be confirmed.

Under Rudd, Israel has experienced turbulent diplomatic relations with Australia, including the expulsion of an Israeli agent from its embassy in Canberra following the 2010 Dubai passports affair.

The three Jewish lawmakers in federal parliament were returned to the government, with Joshua Frydenberg becoming the first Liberal Jewish member of Parliament since Peter Baume in the early 1980s.

Michael Danby and Mark Dreyfus, both of Labor, will return as opposition members. They served in the Cabinet of the Rudd government.

Labor’s Mike Kelly, who is married to a cousin of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, is in a battle to hold on to his seat, with the result still too close to call.

Abbott has said he wants to return bilateral relations to the era of former Liberal leader John Howard, who was an unapologetic supporter of Israel.

“I’d like to think that nowhere in the world [does Israel] have a stauncher friend than us,” Abbott told an Australia-Israel forum in Melbourne when he was first elected party leader in 2009.

The election had been scheduled to clash with Yom Kippur but was advanced  one week when Rudd was reinstated as prime minister six weeks ago in a last-ditch move by Labor to avoid the electoral wipeout predicted under Julia Gillard.

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