Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided not to attend a memorial service for Nelson Mandela this week because it is too expensive to travel to South Africa, Israeli media reported Sunday.
Netanyahu had notified the South African authorities that he would fly in but cancelled his plans at the last minute due to the costs involved — around 7.0 million shekels ($2 million) for his transport and security alone, pubic radio and the Haaretz daily reported.
“The decision was made in light of the high transportation costs resulting from the short notice of the trip and the security required for the prime minister in Johannesburg,” Haaretz reported.
The Israeli leader has been in the spotlight recently with revelations that taxpayers dished out almost $1 million last year to maintain his three residences.
The media highlighted a bill of 17,000 euros ($23,000) for water to fill a swimming pool at his villa in Caesarea in the country’s north.
More than 50 heads of state and government have confirmed their intentions to travel to South Africa to pay their respects to the anti-apartheid hero who died last Thursday, South Africa’s foreign ministry has said.
US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle will be among 80,000 people attending a vast memorial service Tuesday in the Soweto sports stadium that hosted the 2010 World Cup final.
The commemorations will culminate with Mandela’s burial on December 15 in Qunu — the rural village where he spent his early childhood.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has announced that he will attend Tuesday’s memorial service.
Israeli leaders have paid warm homage to the former South African president who died after a long illness at the aged of 95.
Netanyahu paid tribute to Mandela as “a man of vision and a freedom fighter who disavowed violence”.
But some commentators have noted that Israel maintained close relations with the apartheid-era regime until the United States said the ties could threaten Washington’s generous annual military aid to the Jewish state.
After his release from 27 years incarceration in 1990, Mandela, who first visited Israel and the Palestinian territories in 1999, was an ardent supporter of the Palestinian cause but also a firm believer that Israelis would ultimately take the path of peace.
“In my experience I have found Jews to be more broadminded than most whites on issues of race and politics, perhaps because they themselves have historically been victims of prejudice,” Mandela wrote in his 1994 autobiography.
South African Jews played a prominent role in the struggle against apartheid, among them late communist leader Joe Slovo, who headed the ANC’s military wing.