Netanyahu skips Mandela memorial. Israelis say 'are you kidding?'

The prime minister cited finances and security, but some Israelis say the decision gives fodder to those who say Israel runs an apartheid state.

Dan Balilty/AP/File
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem Nov. 17. Fresh off a series of scandals over his high-flying lifestyle and expensive habits, the prime minister said Monday he would skip Nelson Mandela’s funeral due to the high cost of the trip.

As VIPs gathered in the rain for Nelson Mandela’s memorial in South Africa today, the emcee announced the attendance of world leaders from US President Barack Obama to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Apparently, no one told him that Mr. Netanyahu couldn't make it after all.

While the Israeli leader's absence may have gone relatively unnoticed in South Africa, it has caused consternation in Israel. Detractors argue that missing the memorial of a man who championed freedom and brought down apartheid gives fresh fodder to critics who say Israel, too, has constructed an apartheid system and is insincere about reconciling with Palestinians after decades of conflict.

"The anti-Israel lobby could not have wished for a better Christmas present," wrote Times of Israel blogger Neil Lazarus, author of "The 5 Rules of Effective Israel Advocacy." 

"Today, many of the pro-Israel organizations are having to employ damage control as the government’s shortsightedness has led once again to a self-made public relations mess."

Worse, said Mr. Lazarus and others, was the reason Netanyahu gave: the cost of the flight. This, coming from a man who budgeted 10,000 shekels ($2,850) for his personal ice cream parlor and spent 6,000 shekels ($1,700) of Israeli taxpayers' money on scented candles for his homes.

Netanyahu may well have learned his lesson on unnecessary spending, especially after a report last week revealed it costs Israeli taxpayers 3.3 million shekels ($940,000) to maintain his three residences. The trip to Mandela's memorial indeed would have been expensive; the Israeli government estimated it would have cost about 7 million shekels ($1.9 million) for the flight as well as the security necessary – far more than if Netanyahu had been able to attend the smaller ceremony in Mandela's home village this weekend, as originally planned. That reasoning sat particularly badly with South Africa’s Jewish community, which long donated more per capita to support Israel than Jews in America, Britain, and Canada.

But despite the considerable expense, the issue here has more to do with Israel's complex relationship with South Africa, wrote Ilene Prusher for the liberal Haaretz newspaper in a piece examining Mandela's views on Israel.

... tight budgets and sick notes do little to mask the lingering discomfort between the two nations. Jerusalem maintained close military and economic ties with Johannesburg even in the final days of the apartheid regime, when most of the world was backing away, and the then-leader of the African National Congress never forgot it," 

... he was indeed highly critical of the Israeli occupation and the absence of an independent Palestine from map of the world. But Mandela fully endorsed Israel’s right to exist – and thought the Arabs states would need to reconcile fully with Israel in the context of a peace agreement. 

Palestinians have championed Mandela as one of their own, but most seem to agree that now is not the time or the place for Mandela-like gestures toward Israel. Perhaps Israel’s leader, too, is reluctant to take such a decisive step to support a man who so openly supported Palestinian statehood.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Netanyahu skips Mandela memorial. Israelis say 'are you kidding?'
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today