Knesset Speaker Edelstein Fills in for Netanyahu, Peres at Mandela Funeral

YERUSHALAYIM -

After Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and then President Shimon Peres bowed out of attending the funeral of Nelson Mandela, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and a delegation of MKs arranged to go at the last minute, thereby avoiding the embarrassment of an Israeli absence at an event attended by leaders from around the world.

Netanyahu, who was originally slated to make the trip, decided against it, his office citing the millions of shekels that the trip would entail in security costs. Last week, Netanyahu was criticized in the media for lavish expenditures on entertainment and housekeeping at his official residence, and the timing was thought inopportune.

The 90-year-old Peres has a bad cold, and his doctors advised him to forego the 10-hour flight to South Africa.

Medical considerations aside, Peres served as a key link to the apartheid regime which Mandela had devoted decades of his life to fighting. There are those in South Africa who have yet to forgive him or Israel, despite the friendly relationship he had with Mandela in more recent years, The Jerusalem Post said.

Even so, the Israeli contingent is lower echelon compared to the presidents and prime ministers being sent by 70 countries, including the U.S., the UK and France.

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.”

“I’m proud and excited to take part in this historic event,” Ethiopian-born Tamano-Shata (Yesh Atid) 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.”