Nearly 100 heads of state are taking part in the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in South Africa. Israel's leaders are not among them.
Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres did not travel to Johannesburg, each for their own reasons, leaving Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and five Knesset members to represent Israel. Netanyahu said travel costs were too high, while Peres said he was suffering from the flu.
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.
But he did not spare criticism from Netanyahu for his handling of the issue. Netanyahu initially issued a statement saying he would attend the memorial, only to retract it hours later. "It's abominable conduct," Liel said.
"Netanyahu did not realize how complicated this matter was diplomatically and how much resistance his attendance could spark among the South African public. He did the right thing to cancel (the trip) but to give the financial explanation is an insult. This was mistake over mistake."
President Peres, however, would have been very welcome in Johannesburg, Liel says. "Peres is a whole different story. Peres has an entire history and he represents a different policy. It's a shame he didn't go. Yuli Edelstein's arrival will be a problem. He represents a very right-wing line and is a settler. This causes us damage in South Africa. That's the root of the problem and this is what prevented Netanyahu from going."
Despite the fact that neither Netanyahu nor Peres attended Mandela's wake, the hosts included him and Peres when thanking heads of state who arrived to pay respects to the late South African president.
"The president of Israel, President Shimon Peres, and the head of the delegation, the Prime Minister Mister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is here," the announcer proclaimed, though neither was present.
Chen Zausmer and Yossi Fischer contributed to this report
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