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.
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.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.