Although the Israelis have cited cost and security problems as the reasons for the absence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres from the Mandela memorial service in Johannesburg, questions are still being asked. Security, for example, did not appear to be a problem for the US president and some of his predecessors who would arguably be more important potential targets for criminals and terrorists.
According to Israel Radio, Peres missed the trip to South Africa due to concerns about his health, but Haaretz reported that Netanyahu didn’t go because of the cost of chartering an El-Al aircraft and the additional cost of sending security personnel on an air force plane.
The late President Nelson Mandela angered the Israelis repeatedly when he spoke about his battle to liberate South Africa from apartheid whereupon he criticised Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories and human rights violations against the Palestinian people. On several occasions, he also expressed his support for the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Many will, therefore, see the absence of the Israeli leadership from the gathering in Johannesburg as a snub to the memory of the great freedom fighter and, possibly, a protest against the current ANC government’s principled stand against apartheid Israel. Last month, South Africa’s Minister for International Relations, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, insisted that her government would continue to curtail diplomatic links with Israel.