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Bibi Cancels Trip to Mandela Memorial Over Cost, Israeli Settler Leads Israeli Delegation

vorster reception in israel

1976 Jerusalem reception for then-South African Prime Minister and Nazi sympathizer, B.J. Vorster. Israel and apartheid South Africa jointly tested a nuclear weapon in 1979.

Whoever’s handling Israel’s foreign affairs isn’t doing a sterling job.  Deciding who to send to the Nelson Mandela memorial in South Africa today became a matter fraught with intrigue and embarrassment when PM Netanyahu decided at the last minute not to attend.  The official reason was that the trip would’ve cost $2-million.

Bibi is notorious for his profligacy.  He was flayed for having a $140,000 bed built for the plane that flew him to Europe recently.  Only a few days ago, the average Israeli working stiff discovered the $1-million cost (40% over budget) of maintenance for his three (count ‘me!) private residences.  The electricity bill on his Caesarea villa alone was $75,000!  The $3,000 ice cream bill is another tidbit that entertained Israeli media for weeks (pistachio is Sarah’s favorite!).

While it is entirely possible that Netanyahu judged that the preferred choice between being parsimonious and getting his picture taken at Mandela’s funeral was to show his newly frugal nature, that sounds suspect to me.  Netanyahu never misses an opportunity to be on the world stage, as he would’ve been among the leaders of seventy countries who attended.  Not to mention that South Africa’s government has recently declared Israel a place none of its leaders would visit, in solidarity with the BDS movement.  Bibi’s never been one to pass up a chance to poke a stick in the eye of his enemies.  As this story in Haaretz says:

The stated reason was the trip’s high cost, but many people see the underlying reason as more political than financial.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is immensely complicated, and the relationship between Israel and South Africa has been a troubled one ever since the ANC-dominated government came into power in 1994.

Israel is branded an ‘apartheid’ country by various quarters, including some politicians in South Africa, who see the Palestinians as equivalent to South African blacks – and apartheid is what Mandela fought against.

…But if “the whole world is coming to South Africa” – as foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela said – and Israel is not among them, what message would its absence send? Would it be an admission that because of the apartheid label, Israeli leaders fear being embarrassed by expected protests from anti-Israel groups?

My guess (which I haven’t been able to confirm independently) is that either the South African government asked him not to attend or the Shabak learned that South African activists would mount protests against his presence.  It’s very possible that this decision may have resulted, directly or indirectly, from the BDS’s attempt to ostracize Israel from the community of nations.

The  next obvious choice to attend would’ve been Pres. Shimon Peres, who was said to have a ‘bad cold.’  He declined as well, though he appeared Monday at a press conference at his residence with no apparent cold symptoms.  Peres is not liked in South Africa for his role in supporting the white apartheid regime and collaboration with it on building a nuclear weapon.  This is documented in Sasha Polakow-Suransky seminal book on the subject.  While Peres was pretending to support Mandela’s liberation struggle, he was engineering the development of WMD for both countries.

yuli edelstein

Settler Yuli Edelstein mouthing platitudes about Mandela before leaving for South Africa

That left the Knesset speaker and ardent settler, Yuli Edelstein, to cobble together a delegation of mostly right-wing MKs.  Edelstein was a Soviet prisoner of conscience who claims to have met Mandela once.  The fact that Edelstein is a settler and opposes creation of a Palestinian state doesn’t appear to have crossed anyone’s mind as a reason he might be an inappropriate choice.

I’ll let you be the judge as to whether such a statement would’ve found favor in Mandela’s eyes:

Edelstein said that Mandela was a freedom fighter but that “more than that he was a man that [sic] knew that you do not correct an injustice with another injustice and violence with more violence.

He added that the State of Israel will remember Mandela as a man who “abandoned the path of violence in his just struggle for equality between black and white people.”

“I hope that the leaders in our region will abandon terror like Mandela and will choose dialogue as a way to live in peace with Israel,” the Speaker of the Knesset added.

In fact, Mandela endorsed the armed struggle and never “abandoned” it in the “just struggle for equality.”  He only renounced it after the white government did and just before the fall of apartheid.  Read this apt denunciation of Bibi’s similarly fraudulent appraisal of Mandela’s record on armed struggle.  In fact, the U.S. government didn’t remove Mandela and the ANC from the terror watch list until 2008.  That means that Bill Clinton, one of those joining the U.S. delegation to the memorial, labelled Mandela a terrorist (irony of ironies!).  We should remember that Israel has by no means renounced violence against the Palestinians.  Under those circumstances, Mandela wouldn’t have either.  He would’ve dismissed Edelstein’s pallid call for “dialogue” as the empty ruse it is.

In fact, Edelstein would’ve been a perfect choice to attend F.W. DeKlerk’s funeral since both are/were, in a sense, settlers (though DeKlerk opted to abandon apartheid, to his immense credit, while Edelstein still clings to the Israeli version).  For an Israeli leader who tramples on every belief Mandela held sacred, to stand at the head of the Israeli delegation is an insult.  Perhaps that’s what Israel intended.  What better way to poke a stick in the eye of a government which has endorsed BDS?  Though I’m not even certain Israel was thinking that far ahead in devising such a crafty plan.


{ 33 comments… add one }

  • jg December 10, 2013, 2:52 AM

    Such a good post, Richard. I am glad I read this, and I believe your analysis is on the spot.
    Thank you.

  • Deïr Yassin December 10, 2013, 3:40 AM

    In december 2012 the African National Congress made BDS part of its official policy:
    I wonder whether Western mainstream media are going to mention the absence of high-ranking Israeli officials.
    Edelstein used to be Minister of Hasbara (before that ministry was closed down recently), I guess he’s going to use all his skills in South Africa.

  • Aaron December 10, 2013, 4:25 AM

    Great post Richard. Indeed it is the irony or ironies that
    Israel is even sending a delegation to Mandela’s funderal – it’s
    like Dracula going to a vegetarian convention. And it’s not only
    for the past (as some liberal Zionists suggested Israel apologize
    for its cooperation and special relationship with the white
    supremacist regime) – but mostly for the present as Israel
    practices a form of Apartheid ten times more brutal whose ultimate
    goal is the complete expulsion of all native Palestinians. To have
    a delegation from Israel at Mandela’s funeral is an insult to his

    • Davey December 11, 2013, 3:05 PM

      The government agencies doing the commemoration should not allow Israeli attendance, period.

      • Richard Silverstein December 11, 2013, 9:25 PM

        @ Davey: Governments can’t do that unless they’re prepared to sever relations entirely.

  • Emma December 10, 2013, 7:26 AM

    The behavior of Israel is embarrassing to watch.. and I bet
    some people here are struggling to fight the feeling of being on
    the wrong side of history. But why do you call the delegation a
    delegation of mostly right-wing MKs? MK Pnina Tamnu-Shata (Yesh
    Atid) — center MKs Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid) — center Nitzan
    Horowitz (Meretz) — left Gila Gamliel (Likud Beytenu) — right
    Hilik Bar (Labor) — center Moreover, the parties I denoted as
    ‘center’ are often considered ‘center-left’ in Israel. In the
    israeli political landscape, this is actually considered (sadly..
    but this is a different issue) a significantly left leaning
    delegation. If you just split the Knesset in 2, 4 out of 6 MKs are
    in the left half.

    • Richard Silverstein December 10, 2013, 10:54 AM

      You’re right. I didn’t pay enough attention to party affiliations when I wrote that. But as you say, centrist in Israeli terms is quite right wing. Yesh Atid is more a center-right than center-left party. And Labor is no longer a left-wing party. It hardly has any ideology except self preservation.

    • ben December 10, 2013, 12:19 PM

      @emma i just goggled Pninia she is an Ethiopian Immigrant to Israel. So sending a black woman to the funeral of the man who needed apartheid seems justified.

      Rabbi Dov Lipman now MK seems to be the main guy trying to get the ultra-Orthodox/Haredi to become full members of Israeli society.

      Nitzan Horowitz is an openly gay man with extensive experience in the media and foreign affairs having worked for Haaretz.

      even Hilik Bar who is just plain sabra seems to have done some interesting things like being the first person to be elected to be the chair of a major party before being in the knesset.

      Gila Gamliel is a woman rights activist and a descendant of Yemenite and Libyan refugees (i.e she is Mizrahi)

      Looks like they were smart choices afterall…

      They sent a black woman, a gay man, an Arab Jew, a rebel rabbi and a white man who wants social equity. Judge a book not by its cover but by the contents of its pages.

      • Richard Silverstein December 10, 2013, 12:37 PM

        The only member of the group whose politics come anywhere close to those of South Africa or Nelson Mandela is Horowitz, who represents Meretz in Knesset. The others, except for possibly the single Labor Party member, are typical Israeli pols ranging from far right to center right.

        You’re attempting to put a spin on the delegation it doesn’t deserve.

        • ben December 10, 2013, 1:36 PM

          Richard you are correct that most of the delegation is not up to par with Mandela Politics. Though I am unsure how many of the 70 countries delegations would muster as well…

          I believe today Hamid Karzai accused America of being a colonial power by forcing Afghanistan to sign the “bi-lateral” agreement. So who knows if Obama “of all people” is not up to Mandela’s standards… Perhaps Mandela is special a one in a generation like Ghandi or Martin Luther King Jr. Or potentially Barghouti (time will tell on this one I am still not convinced but he did write a good letter about peace today that seems promising)

          What I was attempting to do was derive an understanding of why would Israel chose these individuals. From what I can see it’s purely PR.
          Its hard to deny the fact of ones own eyes in seeing an Arab woman sitting next to a gay man sitting next to a rabbi sitting next to a black woman who all are there to represent Israel makes Israel appear to be a modern egalitarian society. (fact or not)

          • Richard Silverstein December 10, 2013, 2:15 PM

            @ ben: A number of the attendees are war criminals at worst, questionable choices at best. So you are right about that.

          • Deïr Yassin December 11, 2013, 10:05 AM

            @ Ben
            Israel may have sent Pnina Tamano-Shata as part of the Israeli delegation to the Mandela Memorial but today the Magen David Adom barred her from blood donation in the Knesset because she has a “special kind of Jewish-Ethiopian blood”
            I think there’s a saying about “putting lipstick on a pig……”

          • Richard Silverstein December 11, 2013, 1:34 PM

            @ Deir Yassin: can you get me a link to that story?

          • Oui December 11, 2013, 1:58 PM
          • Richard Silverstein December 11, 2013, 9:31 PM

            @Oui: Thanks!

          • Deïr Yassin December 11, 2013, 2:13 PM

            @ Richard
            There’s an article on Ynetnews, and a later article update (including the Ynetnews-article) and other informations on Mondoweiss:
            It seems that the Ethiopian member of the Knesset, Pnina Tamano-Shata organized her first demonstration when she was 16, to get the right to become a blood donor.
            In an article by Lahav Harkov in JPost: “Edelstein: Regional Leaders Should Renounce Violence like Mandela”, there’s a very telling photo: the Israeli delegation including the Ethiopian MK under a huge photo of Mandela.

          • Richard Silverstein December 11, 2013, 9:33 PM

            @ Deir Yassin: I didn’t know Mondoweiss had already covered the story. Good story. Thanks.

      • Aaron December 10, 2013, 4:21 PM

        It sounds exactly like what I would expect from a “hasbara delegation” (with special emphasis on including a black ethiopian Jew), I am just surprised they didn’t include the token Druze as they usually do when they send representatives to countries with most opposition to Israeli policies in an attempt to obfuscate and confuse, which is btw, exactly what Apartheid S. Africa used to do.

        • ben December 10, 2013, 8:26 PM

          [comment deleted--comment was far off-topic. It also raised issues repeatedly raised & discussed long in the past by other commenters before you. If you stay on topic you will tend not to do this sort of thing.]

      • SimoHurtta December 11, 2013, 1:51 AM

        Well in diplomatic “circles” one (a state) sends to such funeral persons of the same level or so close as possible as the deceased was. USA sent to South Africa one present and 3 former presidents, Finland 1+1 etc. Sending a strange mixture of backbench parliamentarians to such a high profile funeral is most probably seen as a diplomatic insult.

        What would Israel say if to the funeral of the long serving head of the “Jewish” state important countries would send such a strange mixture of low ranking parliamentarians representing sexual, color, religious and ethnic minorities/majority? Israelis would hardly see the sender nation as a advanced modern multicultural “democracy”.

        You Israelis have rather strange views of state level politeness and diplomacy. Like that low sofa treatment given to Turkish minister, which has cost your country a lot, but which the crowds there did consider as hilarious joke. Or choosing as the foreign affairs minister a guy who publicly recommended bombing the Aswan damn. Smart choices …

        • Oui December 11, 2013, 11:39 AM

          Smart choices …

          It’s the effect and very intentional. Before the US Presidential election, BN tried to pre-empt the American choice by backing ally Mitt Romney. After BN’s own shocking election misser, he managed to construct a cabinet where any peace deal forged by Obama/Kerry would meet many obstacles. BN looked a the short term. Out of necessity, Obama had to wait for his second term to attain the unreachable goals and his legacy.

  • ben December 10, 2013, 8:14 AM

    Hi Richard. I heard about Bibi not going from my
    Palestinian friend posting it on Facebook. I joked with her saying
    that Lieberman would be going instead. I agree I think the ANC
    under the table told Bibi not to come and he used the Money problem
    to save face. Its like when Mayor Ford was told not to attend the
    Santa Claus Parade this year because the organizers wanted the
    celebration to be about Santa and not be distracted by the media
    circus that would have been caused if he went. Perhaps the people
    who are doing Mandela’s funeral asked Bibi not to come so that the
    ceremony would not be interrupted by anti-Israeli

  • Pip December 10, 2013, 8:36 AM

    Former Israeli Ambassador to South Africa Alon Liel
    believes Netanyahu made the right decision not to make the trip,
    but not for the reasons stipulated. “Netanyahu is not a welcome
    guest in South Africa today. I think it was right of him not to
    go,” Liel told Ynet

    • Oui December 10, 2013, 11:11 AM

      Palestinian Struggle and Nobel Peace Prize

      On charisma and humanity by Alon Liel, former Israel’s ambassador to South Africa

      (Ynet News) – In October 1993, all ambassadors were invited to an event marking the 100th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s arrival in South Africa. Mandela was the keynote speaker. When I approached the place, one of his assistants said to me, “Madiba (Mandela’s clan name) would like to talk to you.”

      I entered the small room where he was learning his speech. He stood up to greet me and with an earnest expression told me excitedly, “This morning I was informed from Stockholm that De Klerk and I have won the Nobel Peace Prize for this year. I ask you, honorable ambassador, to send a telegram to Jerusalem and let your prime minister know that he is the one who deserves this prize, not me.”

      I was speechless. Besides the nobleness on the personal level, I suddenly realized just how affected Mandela was by the handshake between Rabin and Arafat. He clearly saw Israeli-Palestinian peace as a mission of the same magnitude of his life’s challenge: Turning South Africa into a democratic country.

  • Oui December 10, 2013, 11:26 AM

    Apartheid: Mock Memo to Thomas Friedman – 2001

    How it started?
    On March 27, 2001, Thomas Friedman wrote a column in the style of a ‘mock memo’ entitled Bush’s First Memo. In this ‘mock memo’ Thomas Friedman writes in the name of U.S. President George W. Bush A Memo to Palestinian President Yasir Arafat. Arjan El Fassed wrote in the the ‘mock memo’ style that Friedman himself liked to use and offered Nelson Mandela responding to Friedman’s [Bush] Memo to Yasser Arafat.

    Mandela’s first memo to Thomas Friedman (30 March 2001)

    Since Thomas Friedman tells his readers that Palestinians should forget about 1948 and forget about returning to their homes, I wanted to show that current policies against Palestinians resemble an apartheid-like situation. Since Nelson Mandela has become the personification of the struggle against apartheid, I thought a ‘mock memo’ including Mandela was the logical thing to do. I could also have taken Steven Biko who has said that “the most potential weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed” or Oliver Tambo or other anti-apartheid activists.

    Soon, however, I found the ‘mock memo’ I wrote and which clearly indicated that I wrote it, on various listservers and websites but without the byline mentioning that it was in fact written by me. This led to a vast confusion amongst editors of newspapers in many countries …

    From my diary – Mandela and Apartheid.

  • axisofresistence December 10, 2013, 11:47 AM

    why would a trip cost him $2mil but not his entire delegation?

    • Richard Silverstein December 10, 2013, 12:38 PM

      @ axisofresistance: Bibi needed a 2nd plane for his armored vehicles & extra security personnel. Apparently, pro-Palestine activists throw lethal eggs during protests.

      • Stelnikov December 11, 2013, 1:01 AM

        Also BN’s name is mud outside of the US and Israel, so it make sense they would send unknowns to South Africa in his place.

  • Oui December 11, 2013, 7:10 AM

    Worthwhile read …
    Brandeis professors call on university to ‘resume, redouble’ ties with Al-Quds University

    Appreciate your lone voice and early response!

  • Pip December 11, 2013, 9:54 AM

    Wait a sec. I thought Mandela was inspired by the Menachem
    Begin’s Irgun

    • Richard Silverstein December 11, 2013, 1:35 PM

      @ Pip: Yeah, must’ve been inspired by Begin’s embrace of armed struggle, just like what Palestinian militants do!

      • Pip December 11, 2013, 9:16 PM

        Well, Richard.

        Begin’s Irgun was a terrorist organization.
        Than again, the Irgun Party never gained control of the government the way Mapai, the ANC and the PLO did.

        • Richard Silverstein December 11, 2013, 9:24 PM

          The Irgun as a political party (Herut) eventually DID become the government (in 1977). But the political forces which eventually became Labor also engaged in acts of terror (even assassinating a Jew in 1921).

          Further, PLO no longer engages in terror. Other Palestinian militant groups do & Mandela would have absolutely no problem with that until Israel ends Occupation, recognizes Palestinian state on 67 lines with East Jerusalem as capital, plus refugee return.

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