How Did 'Mrs. Netanyahu' Turn Into 'First Lady'? 'The Term Came From the Prime Minister's Residence'

Sara Netanyahu is the prime minister's wife, not the president's, and 'First Lady' isn't an official title in Israel. Why was she introduced as such during Pence's visit?

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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen Pence, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu, at the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, Jan. 22, 2018.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen Pence, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu, at the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, Jan. 22, 2018.Credit: Ariel Schalit/AP
Nir Gontarz
Nir Gontarz

UPDATE: Israel's chief of protocol summoned after telling Haaretz who turned 'Mrs. Netanyahu' into 'First Lady'

Hello to Meron Reuben, protocol chief at the Foreign Ministry. Nir Gontarz here, reporter for Haaretz. How are you?


Meron, I'd like, with your permission, to understand the issue through you, because no one's more authorized than you to explain ...

Is this call authorized by our ministry’s spokesman, Mr. Nahshon, or not?

No. I don’t need authorization from spokespeople; at most from my editors, if necessary.

Uh, hmm, all right. I’ll listen to your question and say whether I can reply or not.

Great. I’m interested in a new term that was created in the Foreign Ministry’s state protocol department: First Lady.

What do you mean? Created where? At the state protocol department? Why do you say “created in the state protocol department”? I don’t recall signing anything that has “First Lady” written on it, unless it refers to the wife of the president of the United States.

Really? In the reception for Mike Pence, and I think also in the reception for Trump, when the prime minister’s wife Sara arrives, what’s announced is the entrance of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and First Lady Sara Netanyahu.

Not by an announcer of mine.


The menu of the dinner shared by the Pences and Netanyahus at the Prime Minister's Residence.Credit: Instagram

Ask the Prime Minister’s Office. We don’t do the announcing, though Emmanuel Nahshon, the spokesman, was asked to be the announcer at the ceremony for Pence. That’s the information I have. But Mrs. Netanyahu wasn’t there. Mrs. Pence is indeed the “Second Lady,” even if that’s a very funny term.

It really is.

As far as I know, there are two terms: “the prime minister’s wife” and “the president’s wife.” We don’t have a First, Second or Third Lady. Maybe the Prime Minister’s Office has begun using new terms.

What about the invitations to dinners and other formal invitations that say, blue on white, “First Lady Sara Netanyahu”?

Where is that written?

Just a second. I’m opening a file here.

In any event, we don’t write those invitations. Where? [The daily] Maariv? I’m also checking now .... Just a minute .... Someone sent it to me. Anyway, it’s not from us.

Here, I found it: “Dinner hosted by H.E. Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the State of Israel, and First Lady Sara Netanyahu.” 

Meron Reuben.Credit: RONEN ZVULUN / AP

Uh, I only have the Hebrew, which says “Mrs. Sara Netanyahu.” In any event, we don’t write that. It comes from the prime minister’s residence. Ask the prime minister’s residence. We don’t write the invitations.

Let’s say we officially imported this term to Israel. Which woman would be ...

You’re getting me into questions that are certainly off the record.

There’s no “off the record” here.

If we imported the term, then my opinion, and it’s not for quotation, is that Mrs....

Hang on! Don’t say anything you don’t want me to quote. Everything is for quotation.

Okay. I won’t answer you. But I’m sure you have an IQ that allows you to understand what my answer was.

I think I’m at the level that makes it possible for me to understand.

I’m sure it’s beyond that.

Maybe. Good. In any case, it’s amazing.

What amazes you?

The pursuit of honor by the people in the prime minister’s residence. It has no limits.

I won't respond to those remarks. There are no titles like that in Israel that have gone through the symbols and ceremonies committee, but I’m sure they can be approved if Mrs. Regev [the culture minister] wishes.

That’s clear. What's your title exactly?

The full and precise title is from the state’s first years, and it’s long and awkward. In English it’s “chief of state protocol.”

Sir, you've helped me, and perhaps also my readers, understand the mystery. And bravo for the courage, because in the end you answered the questions, and in today’s Israel to answer questions about the Netanyahu couple honestly requires courage. Well done.

Fine, we’ll see how long I last in the job after having spoken with you.

Between 24 hours and 24 weeks.

Uh ...

That’s how it is. Thank you.

You’re welcome.

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