I was shocked when I read that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not be attending the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa because it was too expensive to travel there. Seriously?
To be perfectly clear, I write these words as someone who stands with Israel and who thinks well of Mr. Netanyahu. But truth is truth, and there’s a good reason that the prime minister’s excuse for not attending the funeral has caused quite an uproar.
As reported by Christa Case Bryant in the Christian Science Monitor, the simple fact that Mr. Netanyahu did not attend the funeral was serious in itself: “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.”
Indeed, Middle East expert Neil Lazarus, blogging for the Times of Israel, noted that, “The anti-Israel lobby could not have wished for a better Christmas present.”
He further explained that, “To excuse yourself from attending Nelson Mandela’s memorial on the basis of expense is lacking truth and needs reconciling with the facts.”
According to the Jewish Daily Forward, “South African Jews blasted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his controversial decision to snub Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.
“Amid public anger over Netanyahu’s bizarre claim that it would cost too much to attend, Jews slammed the move and expressed hope it would not diminish the outpouring of emotion from Jews over the death of the freedom icon.
“‘It’s an absolute disgrace,’ said Zev Krengel, president of the South African Board of Jewish Deputies. ‘This is the No. 1 Jewish citizen in the world and he cannot find a way to attend an event of this nature? It’s an absolute low point.’”
Certainly, it is almost impossible to believe that Israel could not afford to send its prime minister to South Africa, even considering the cost of the extra security that would be needed, and Lazarus makes this plain by examining Israeli expenditures on Mr. Netanyahu.
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.