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Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu describes ‘battle for the future of humanity’ during Singapore visit

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the Maghain Aboth Synagogue in Singapore on February 20, 2017.
Leslie Shaffer | CNBC
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the Maghain Aboth Synagogue in Singapore on February 20, 2017.

In the first visit to Singapore by an Israeli head of state in 30 years, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday issued a call for greater diversity and tolerance.

Netanyahu gave a roughly 10-minute speech to Jewish community members gathered at the tightly guarded Maghain Aboth Synagogue, built in Singapore in the late 1800s.

Netanyahu spoke of his recent visits to Muslim-majority countries Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, noting that he visited a synagogue in the latter.

"Jewish children in Kazakhstan were singing Hebrew songs as they sang here, in a Muslim state and that reflects the kind of world we like to see: a world of tolerance, a world of diversity as opposed to the world that is being challenged today by the forces of barbarism and intolerance," he said. "This is a battle for the future of humanity."

Netanyahu added that the relationship between Singapore and Israel had expanded beyond the defence ties which were set in the mid-1960s, when Singapore became independent of Malaysia.

"It's not only that we're both innovation nations. It's not only that we're small people that have defied the limitations of our size. It is that we're committed to a better world. A world of diversity, a world that follows the values that we as a people have held for so many years," he said.

Netanyahu said he had held talks with Singapore's government earlier in the day and that the talks would continue later. His speech at the synagogue coincided with the reading of Singapore's budget in Parliament.

Netanyahu's visit to Singapore comes hard on the heels of the Israeli prime minister's meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in the U.S. last week, but that visit went unmentioned.

Netanyahu's visit to Singapore on Monday was quieter than the last visit of an Israeli head of state to the island-nation.

In 1986, Israel's then-President Chaim Herzog became the first Israeli head of state to visit Singapore. But when the Israeli embassy in Singapore announced the visit about a month ahead of time, protests erupted across Muslim-majority countries Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, and Singapore faced diplomatic ire and pressure to cancel the visit.

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1

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