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After Netanyahu, Peres back out, Israel sends Edelstein to Mandela funeral
By LAHAV HARKOV
09/12/2013
Knesset Speaker to head Israeli delegation at memorial as PM, Peres can't attend for financial, security reasons.
 
The US sent its president and three former presidents to Tuesday’s memorial service for anti-apartheid hero and former South African president Nelson Mandela. The UK and France sent its prime ministers, as did another nearly 90 countries. Oprah Winfrey and the Dalai Lama were set to attend. Israel, however, came close to sending no one, in a near diplomatic fiasco that started Sunday and developed throughout Monday.

In the end, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein flew Monday night to the memorial service, along with the first female Ethiopian MK Pnina Tamnu-Shata (Yesh Atid), as well as MKs Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid), Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), Gila Gamliel (Likud Beytenu) and Hilik Bar (Labor).



Edelstein, a former prisoner of Zion in the USSR, said he’s “happy that in the end Israel has representation at this important event. As a former prisoner of conscience, I had the privilege of meeting Mandela as a minister in 1996, and we shared experiences from prison and the fight for our rights. This is a sort of closure for me.”

Before leaving for South Africa, Edelstein said that Mandela was a freedom fighter but that "more than that he was a man that 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.

The saga began when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was originally scheduled to attend, decided against it, with his office citing a price tag of millions of shekels for the trip due to security costs. Not only would Netanyahu and his guards require their own plane, another heavy-duty aircraft would have to carry armored cars for him, because the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) could not go to South Africa in advance and make security arrangements.

Netanyahu declined to go to the service a week after coming under fire for spending thousands on scented candles and wine.

The next option, President Shimon Peres, did not work out either. Peres had a bad cold, his office explained. Nonetheless, Peres held a press conference with the president of Guatemala Monday, not as strenuous an undertaking for a 90-year-old as a 10-hour flight.

In addition, Peres was instrumental in Israel’s relations with the apartheid regime, and there are people in South Africa who did not forgive him or Israel, even though he had close ties with Mandela in more recent years.

The Shin Bet was concerned about Netanyahu or Peres visiting South Africa, because of overwhelmingly pro-Palestinian sentiment in the country.

Next in line to visit was Edelstein, who put together a group of MKs to join him.

However, the final decision was delayed for hours. First, because of difficulties finding a free plane. Then, it was unclear that an Israeli plane would be able to land, due to high air traffic.

Eventually, three hours before the Knesset delegation was supposed to fly, Edelstein closed the deal, even reducing the price of renting a small plane from NIS 2 million to NIS 350,000. The plane will have to stop on the way to refuel, possibly in Djibouti.

“I’m proud and excited to take part in this historic event,” Tamnu-Shata said. “As someone born in Africa, I feel a great privilege in representing the State of Israel in the emotional funeral for a black hero who made history with his two hands and changed not only South Africa but the whole world in his fight against racism and discrimination.”

Lipman, chairman of the Knesset’s delegation to the South African parliament, said “Nelson Mandela reminded us that one person can change the world.

He showed that with persistence, patience, and passion, every one of us has the ability to make a mark and leave the world a better place... It is an honor for me to be traveling to South Africa to join Southern Africans in mourning the death of this great leader and in representing Israel in paying tribute to him.”

Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.
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