(photo credit: SHLOMI BEN-DAVID)
A group of lawmakers from four parties flew to South America Sunday in the first delegation to the continent in years.
MK Nava Boker (Likud), the head of the Israel-Paraguay-Uruguay Parliamentary Friendship Group, led the delegation, which included coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud), MK Hilik Bar (Zionist Union), MK Hamad Amar (Yisrael Beytenu), and MK Haim Jelin (Yesh Atid), who grew up in Argentina, as well as Migdal Ha’emek Mayor Eli Barda and Dimona Mayor Benny Biton.
The group will meet with Paraguay President Horacio Cartes, who visited Israel two weeks ago, for a celebratory dinner.
They will also travel to Uruguay and Argentina.
Boker said she is very excited for the visit, which she said is part of her efforts to strengthen Israel’s ties with South American countries.
“Up until now the efforts focused on visits to Israel, such as an ambassadors’ tour of the City of David [archeological park in Jerusalem] a month ago, but now we are visiting them and can learn more about their culture,” Boker stated.
She said the trip proves that Israel is not diplomatically isolated, and, in fact, its diplomatic situation is improving.
“I believe the visit will bear fruit, and, in addition, is a preview of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to Latin America,” she added.
Netanyahu has said that Israel wanted to expand its ties with Latin American countries, and is expected to visit South America in the next year.
Cartes is the first Paraguayan president ever to visit Israel. He stood by Israel during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in 2014, and did not condemn Israel even though some other Latin American states were extremely critical, and some – such as Brazil, Peru, Chile, El Salvador and Ecuador – recalled their ambassadors in protest of Israel’s actions. The country has also consistently voted either for Israel, or abstained from voting, on Israel-related issues in international forums, since Cartes’s election in 2013.
On Saturday, MK Oren Hazan (Likud), who was supposed to be a member of the delegation, had to drop out after undergoing emergency surgery under general anesthesia due to internal bleeding, according to his spokesman. He woke up later Saturday, but remained in the hospital, under observation.Herb Keinon contributed to this report.