Shinzo Abe, former Japanese prime minister who bolstered ties with Israel, is assassinated

Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe raises his arms with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party candidate Keiichiro Asao after he delivered a campaign speech in Tokyo, July 6, 2022. (Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP via Getty Images)

By Gabe Friedman

Shinzo Abe, the former prime minister of Japan who boosted relations with Israel as part of his effort to increase his country’s global influence, was assassinated at a campaign rally on Friday.

Abe, 67, who led Japan from 2012 to 2020 after a short stint in 2006-2007, was speaking at a rally in Nara when he was shot multiple times from behind. Japan has some of the strictest gun policies in the world, and one of the lowest gun violence rates; the alleged shooter’s gun looked to have been homemade, NPR reported.

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 to establish warm relations with Jerusalem.

But by 2014, after a visit to Tokyo by then Prime Minister Benjamin 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 U.S. officials and then visiting Jerusalem in 2018. Things were going smoothly until the meal at Netanyahu’s residence ended with dessert served in a shoe — a major faux pas that made international headlines. In Japanese culture, shoes are kept outside of office and work spaces, a well-known taboo.


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