President to make first official visit to Australia

Reuven Rivlin will also stop in Fiji Islands for a summit with leaders, sign visa waiver agreement; a stopover in Los Angeles will see president honored at UCLA

President Reuven Rivlin speaks at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem, on February 17, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
President Reuven Rivlin speaks at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem, on February 17, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin will make his first official visit to Australia this week at the invitation of Governor-General David Hurley, the president’s office said in a statement Monday.

The trip Down Under will also include stopovers in the Fiji Islands and Los Angeles.

A business delegation from the Manufacturer’s Association of Israel and Israel Export Institute will accompany the president on his trip.

Rivlin will leave on Tuesday and is expected to arrive in Australia on Friday.

“I am excited to be visiting Australia for the first time as president,” Rivlin said ahead of his trip. “The relations between Israel and Australia are well-established and strong. They are based on shared values and true friendship that bridge the huge distance between us – not only countries, oceans and time zones, but also different cultures and traditions.”

During his time in Australia, the president will meet with the members of the Jewish community in Sydney and Melbourne, and mark the centenary of the Keren Hayesod [United Israel Appeal] organization.

He will be officially welcomed by Hurley in Canberra next Wednesday and will meet with Prime Minister Scott Morrison as well as other senior political figures, the statement said.

Also on his itinerary is opening the Australian Securities Exchange with a traditional ringing of its bell, and a visit to a warship.

The visit comes after last week, when members of Australia’s federal parliament united in calling for the “immediate extradition” of former Melbourne school principal Malka Leifer from Israel.

Liefer faces 74 counts of charges of child sex abuse in Australia related to accusations brought forward by three sisters who say they were abused while she was a teacher and principal at the ultra-Orthodox religious school they attended in Melbourne. In 2008, as the allegations surfaced, the Israeli-born Leifer left the school in Australia and returned to Israel.

After Australia filed an extradition request, Leifer was put under house arrest in 2014 and underwent the beginnings of an extradition process. But the process has been delayed ever since amid defense claims that she is not fit to stand trial and counter claims that she is faking her mental incompetence.

Malka Leifer, right, is brought to a courtroom in Jerusalem, on February 27, 2018. (AP Photo/ Mahmoud Illean, File)

The Jerusalem District Court is in the process of debating approval of her extradition, though a ruling could be months away. A final decision on extradition must be made by the justice minister, though appeals can be made along the way, further delaying the process.

Rivlin will not fly directly to Australia from Israel, but first stop in Los Angeles for several hours, during which he will be honored by the Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies at UCLA.

From there, the president will fly to the Fiji Islands for a summit meeting with island leaders, described as a “first of its kind.”

Rivlin will meet with Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama of Fiji and representatives of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Tonga and Palau. During the summit, a visa waiver agreement will be signed by Pacific Islands’ ambassadors in the presence of the president, the statement said.

Fiji is located 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles) northeast of New Zealand, and has full diplomatic relations with Israel, though currently only has consulate in Tel Aviv with no ambassador leading the mission. Israel likewise has a consulate in Suva, Fiji’s capital, but no embassy.

The tiny island nation — which has some 910,000 inhabitants, slightly more than Jerusalem — has provided troops to UN peacekeeping operations on the Israeli-Syrian border and in Lebanon, in the Golan Heights and in Egypt and Iraq, since 1978.

Rivlin will return to Israel on February 27.

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