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Israeli leaders express shock at assassination of ex-Japanese PM Shinzo Abe

Lapid laments ‘heinous murder’ of ‘true friend of Israel,’ while Herzog lauds Abe as ‘one of Japan’s most preeminent leaders’ and Netanyahu recalls their ‘brave friendship’

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe touches the stones of the Western Wall during his visit to Jerusalem's Old City, Jan. 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe touches the stones of the Western Wall during his visit to Jerusalem's Old City, Jan. 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Prime Minister Yair Lapid and other Israeli leaders expressed shock and condolences on Friday at the assassination of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe.

“On behalf of the government and people of Israel, I send my condolences to the Japanese people and their government on the tragic death of former prime minister Shinzo Abe,” Lapid said in a statement. “Abe was one of the most important leaders of modern Japan, and a true friend of Israel who brought about flourishing and prosperous relations between Israel and Japan.”

“His heinous murder will not change his distinguished legacy,” Lapid added. “Today, Israel bows its head and mourns the loss of Abe together with the people of Japan.”

Abe died on Friday of his wounds hours after he was shot from behind during a speech in Nara in western Japan. He was airlifted to a hospital for emergency treatment but was not breathing and his heart had stopped. He was pronounced dead later at the hospital.

President Isaac Herzog said he was “horrified by the despicable murder” of Abe, who he called “one of Japan’s most preeminent leaders in modern times.”

“We met when I chaired Israel’s opposition and I was deeply impressed by his leadership, vision and respect for Israel,” Herzog added. “Grieving with his family and the whole Japanese people.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pose for a photo at the PM’s office in Jerusalem on May 2, 2018. (AFP/Abir SULTAN)

Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett expressed his “shock and sadness” over the “tragic murder.”

Bennett said Abe was “a strong, steady leader and a friend to Israel,” adding that “my thoughts and prayers are with his family and the people of Japan.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz expressed his condolences as well, adding that “as democracies and close partners, we will not be shaken by those who try to silence us. The people of Israel stand with you.”

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met several times with Abe while both were in office, expressed condolences on behalf of “all citizens of Israel.”

Netanyahu called Abe a “great leader of Japan and a huge friend of Israel,” adding that he “will always remember him with great appreciation and recognition of the brave friendship between us.”

Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy said he was “rattled by the assassination of Israel’s ally,” and sent his condolences to Abe’s family and the Japanese people.

“The bullets that killed Abe have also hit democracy and freedom of speech,” Levy said in a tweet. “As chairman of the Israeli parliament, I am concerned and rattled to see that an election campaign can lead to such a tragic act of violence,” he added.

A general view shows workers at the scene after an attack on Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe at Kintetsu Yamato-Saidaiji station square in Nara on July 8, 2022. (Jiji Press/AFP)

The 67-year-old Abe was Japan’s longest-serving leader before stepping down for health reasons in 2020.

Israeli Ambassador to Japan Gilad Cohen tweeted after Abe was shot that he was “absolutely shocked by the news.”

“Being one of the most prominent leaders of Japan, Abe san was amongst the architects of modern relations between Israel and Japan,” Cohen added.

Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov said he was “shocked and saddened” by Abe’s tragic death. “Violence of this kind is an attack on freedom around the world,” he wrote. “May his memory be a blessing.”

New Hope MK Zvi Hauser and Likud MK Amir Ohana both tweeted photos of themselves alongside Abe after news of his death, offering condolences to his family and to the people of Japan.

Abe boosted relations with Israel as part of his effort to increase his country’s global influence.

Abe was a staunch nationalist who sought to dramatically change Japan’s pacifist postwar character, increasing military spending and becoming more engaged with several world powers. His multi-faceted plans for sweeping economic reforms earned its own internationally known nickname: “Abenomics.”

Increased diplomacy with Israel was a prime example of Japan’s foreign policy shift during Abe’s consequential second tenure as prime minister. Due to its close ties with oil-producing Arab countries that were historically hostile to Israel, Japan had for decades been wary of establishing warm relations with Jerusalem.

But by 2014, after a visit to Tokyo by then-prime minister Netanyahu, a leader who shared many of his Japanese counterpart’s right-wing characteristics, trade between the two countries had risen by nearly 10%. Beyond economics, the two leaders signed historic pacts to bolster tourism and security cooperation. Israel’s military expertise made the country a particularly attractive partner for Abe, a historian told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 2015.

“I am determined, together with Prime Minister Netanyahu, to make further efforts to strengthen Japan-Israel relations, so that the potentials are fully materialized,” Abe said at the time.

Abe returned the favor by offering in 2017 to host a four-way peace summit among Israeli, Palestinian and US officials and then visiting Jerusalem in 2018.

Agencies and Tobias Siegal contributed to this report.

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