Netanyahu to skip Mandela funeral to "save money"
Published Monday, December 9, 2013
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided not to attend a memorial service for ardent Palestinian supporter Nelson Mandela this week because he couldn't afford to travel to South Africa, Israeli media claimed.
Netanyahu had notified the South African authorities that he would fly in but cancelled his plans at the last minute alleging that the flight and accommodations would set him back around 7.0 million shekels ($2 million), public radio and the Haaretz daily reported.
"The decision was made in light of the high transportation costs resulting from the short notice of the trip and the security required for the prime minister in Johannesburg," Haaretz reported.
The Israeli leader has been in the spotlight recently with revelations that taxpayers dished out almost $1 million last year to maintain his three residences.
The media highlighted a bill of 17,000 euros ($23,000) for water to fill a swimming pool at his villa in Caesarea in the country's north.
But it's more likely Netanyahu chose to cancel the trip to avoid embarrassment at a ceremony to honor a man who struggled against violent and racist policies that mirror those practiced by the Israeli government towards Palestinians.
More than 50 heads of state and government have confirmed their intentions to travel to South Africa to pay their respects to the anti-apartheid hero who died last Thursday, South Africa's foreign ministry has said.
The former South African president died after a long illness at the age of 95.
US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle will be among 80,000 people attending a vast memorial service Tuesday in the Soweto sports stadium that hosted the 2010 World Cup final.
The commemorations will culminate with Mandela's burial on December 15 in Qunu – the rural village where he spent his early childhood.
Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has announced that he will attend Tuesday's memorial service.
Joining international outpourings of grief and lionizing tributes to Mandela, Netanyahu described him as "a man of vision and a freedom fighter who disavowed violence."
But commentators were quick to note that Israel was one of the apartheid-era regime's staunchest supporters, with the Zionist segregationist model largely mirroring that of the former apartheid state.
After his release from 27 years of incarceration in 1990, Mandela, who first visited occupied Palestine in 1999, became an ardent supporter of the Palestinian cause and a fierce critic of Israel.
He is famously quoted as saying: "We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians."