Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Netanyahu’s decision not to attend the Mandela memorial service in South Africa due to the exceptionally high financial costs to be incurred for him to attend, represents probably the lamest excuse that a head of state has ever given for not going to an event; especially having previously expressed his clear intention to attend. Given the level of the conspicuous consumption demonstrated by Israeli officials over time including the Prime Minister himself, it is baffling that suddenly Netanyahu became concerned about costs.
Granted that there well might have been some security issues, but given the extensive experience of the Israeli security staff and the intense security assembling for all the Governments’ representatives in South Africa, it is unlikely that this was the reason Bibi did not attend. While there have been some tense feelings between Israel and various South African leaders over the years, including Bishop Desmond Tutu and even upon occasion Mandela, the bottom line should have been this was a specific moment for Israel to be seen among the Heads of States and Government Chiefs in attendance.
The about face probably was based on either a petty matter involving Netanyahu and Mandela, an historical slight which someone in the governing coalition was about to unmask, or merely a very pointless concern that Netanyahu would receive a potential slight. For example, Bibi would be forced to face Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in a crowd or be not given a few minutes with President Obama.
It is time for the Israeli Prime Minister to conduct the affairs of state not as if he was leading a collection of Jews in the shtetel who do not understand the politics of the 21st Century. Paying respect to Nelson Mandela would have been a clear statement that Israel wanted to pay tribute to an extraordinary leader and at the same time to demonstrate that indeed Israel is recognized as a serious nation on the world stage. He also could have afforded it!