No reporters on board as Sara Netanyahu embarks on ‘historic’ visit to Guatemala

Officials hail ‘great diplomatic importance’ of PM’s wife’s six-day trip; say accommodation and internal transport paid by hosts, other costs to be covered by Israel

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu his wife Sara, Guatemala President Jimmy Morales (2R) his wife Patricia (R) and Guatemalan Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel (L) pose for a picture at the official opening ceremony of the Guatemala embassy in Jerusalem on May 16, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu his wife Sara, Guatemala President Jimmy Morales (2R) his wife Patricia (R) and Guatemalan Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel (L) pose for a picture at the official opening ceremony of the Guatemala embassy in Jerusalem on May 16, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Monday embarked on an unprecedented diplomatic visit to Guatemala.

Israeli officials hailed the visit — the first time a prime minister’s spouse has gone on an official trip alone — as “historic,” saying it further cemented the robust bilateral ties between Israel and the Central American state.

In Guatemala, Sara Netanyahu is scheduled to participate in several events marking Israeli assistance to the country and to meet local Jewish community leaders.

“I am very moved to leave tonight on a very important mission to Guatemala, at the invitation of my friend, the wife of the Guatemalan president, and together with our delegation, I hope to represent Israel with honor,” Sara Netanyahu said in a Hebrew clip posted by the prime minister’s official Twitter account early Monday morning, standing next to her husband.

The clip was also posted on the prime minister’s official Facebook account. No statement on the trip was issued in English.

Israel’s Ambassador to Guatemala Mattanya Cohen called the visit “historic” in an interview with the country’s state-owned news agency AGN.

“It is a historic visit because [Sara Netanyahu] has never traveled alone and, as an ambassador, I am very happy and very proud because it shows the true friendship between the two countries, the two leaders and the wives,” Cohen said.

Netanyahu, who joins her husband on nearly all his foreign trips, was personally invited to Guatemala by the wife of Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, Patricia Marroquín de Morales, in the aftermath of a meeting of their husbands in September in New York.

“As part of the visit, the prime minister’s wife and the Israeli delegation were invited to participate in an official event about drinking water and natural disaster relief, in light of the assistance Israel provided to Guatemala after the disaster of the Volcán de Fuego eruption six months ago,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office read.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales (L) in Jerusalem on November 29, 2016. (Haim Zach / GPO)

After a June 3 series of volcanic explosions at the Volcán de Fuego, which killed nearly 200 people, Israel offered medical and logistical aid.

The Israeli delegation will participate in a cornerstone ceremony for the reconstruction of a village destroyed in the tragedy, according to the PMO. Israel helped in the construction of houses for the victims.

Other Israeli government aid to Guatemala, including medical assistance for children, will be announced during Netanyahu’s visit, the statement said.

According to AGN, Morales and Netanyahu will meet with the local Jewish communities during a breakfast the National Palace of Culture and attend a meeting with alumni of the Israel Agency for International Development Cooperation, known as Mashav.

On Tuesday, the two leaders’ wives will participate in the launch of a deworming campaign for children, according to AGN.

“In recent years there has been a significant tightening of relations between Israel and Guatemala, which was reflected in the visit of the Guatemalan president to Israel [in May], which reached its pinnacle in the transfer of the Guatemalan embassy to Jerusalem,” the Israeli PMO’s statement said.

The delegation’s visit will further strengthen the “special relations between the two countries “and carries great diplomatic importance.”

No reporters were invited to join the trip.

As for the costs: The PMO said accommodation and transportation in Guatemala would be paid by the Guatemalan government. Other expenses will be calculated at the end of the visit and “in line with regulations,” it said.

“Every year the Foreign Ministry and other ministries fund the trips of Israeli citizens, including artists, writers and athletes to represent Israel,” it said.

“The [Guatemalan] president’s wife noted in her official invitation that this is a historic visit that will serve as a symbol of the friendship between the two countries and the strengthening of their mutual commitment,” the PMO stated.

Unlike countries such as the US and Guatemala, Israel has no first lady, and the prime minister’s spouse formally holds no special status.

Sara Netanyahu, an educational psychologist who is embroiled in several corruption cases, has been involved in social projects in Israel, including with lone soldiers and Holocaust survivors.

Her trip to Guatemala was organized by the Foreign Ministry and is overseen by deputy director-general Modi Ephraim, who heads the ministry’s Latin American and Caribbean Division. Prime Minister Netanyahu is also the acting foreign minister.

Since 1994, Guatemala has a formal organization for first ladies’ social and communal activities, called the Secretary of Social Work of the President’s Wife, which is organizing the trip on the Guatemalan side.

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