World leaders have already said their goodbye to Nelson Mandela, but the conspicuous absence of Israeli heads of state from the ceremony in Johannesburg remains an issue in the local press.
Uri Elitzur writes in Maariv that the media is presently on the crest of “a giant wave of Bibi-phobia” in its rampant criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The prime minister, he says, was in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. He defends Netanyahu’s absence, noting that it would have been President Shimon Peres’s obligation to attend, but because of his senescence, it was “perfectly acceptable and totally excusable, even natural” that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein attended instead.
“It’s absolutely reasonable and isn’t injurious to the rules of etiquette, not to the respect of Mandela nor to the honor of Israel,” he says. Instead Netanyahu avoided the bear trap of spending NIS 7 million ($2 million) on the trip, for which, Elitzur says, he would have been raked over the coals by the press.
Defending its patron Netanyahu, Israel Hayom publishes a small story quoting Edelstein to the effect that “most of the states didn’t send their prime ministers and presidents to the memorial ceremony.” The article, along with the rest of the coverage of Mandela’s memorial, is buried on Page 9, after news about an impending storm and advice from doctors not to use humidifiers.
Edelstein reported that most countries sent low-level delegations and that the South African government was not upset by Netanyahu and Peres’s absence.
Haaretz tears into Netanyahu in its editorial despite Edelstein’s claims, saying “it’s too bad that the very first cut he opted to make resulted in Nelson Mandela’s funeral… taking place without the participation of a senior Israeli representative.” Pointing to the prime minister’s attendance at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral last year, which incurred great expense, it says “it’s not unreasonable to suspect that the spending issue provided Netanyahu with a pretext to escape a vexing event he didn’t want to participate in.” Mandela’s support for the Palestinian cause did not make Netanyahu his biggest fan.
In contrast to Mandela, “Israel under Netanyahu’s leadership, in which segregation, racist legislation and discrimination on the basis of nationality are flourishing virtually undisturbed, cannot say it respects Mandela’s heritage, nor can it join the family of nations whose flagship values are the striving for civil equality and the fight against racism,” Haaretz writes.
“The absence of Israel’s senior leadership from Mandela’s funeral is no accident, and it can be seen as a symbol of Israel’s increasing diplomatic isolation.”
Yedioth Ahronoth’s populist publishers don’t give a hoot about the Mandela-Netanyahu issue, which is relegated to pages 18 and 19. It mentions that South Africa’s deputy president, acting as emcee for the event, erroneously announced that Netanyahu and Peres were in attendance.
“That mistake only showed how much we think the world revolves around us,” Edelstein told the paper. “It was an enormous event, and believe me, Netanyahu and Peres’s non-arrival didn’t preoccupy the government and public here.”
While a media storm is raging over the Mandela story, another storm is brewing in Israel, one of a wintry sort. Yes, it’s that time again — the annual Israeli media rush to report on the one mediocre snowfall the country gets. Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom both feature the cookie-cutter photos of people prancing in the powder on Mount Hermon and excited kids holding up pictures of snowmen, and others just getting soaked by rain in warmer climes.
According to Yedioth, in the next four days meteorologists predict between 100 and 150 millimeters (4-6 inches) of precipitation — “a flood,” the paper calls it; Israel Hayom calls it “hardcore winter.”
Wait, just six inches of precipitation and the press is going berserk? Hey, Elitzur, let’s talk about that media hype.
On a more serious note, Israeli and American officials will meet Thursday at the White House to discuss a final agreement with Iran, Maariv reports. According to the paper, national security adviser Yossi Cohen and his American counterpart, Susan Rice, will meet for the day with security and intelligence officials from both sides.
Haaretz also reports, variously, on the state prosecutor recommending an appeal of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s acquittal by a Jerusalem court last month and on the government spending NIS 87 million ($24.9 million) on clothes for retirees. More interestingly, the paper reports on how South Africa’s apartheid regime saved Israel’s cash-starved defense industry in the 1980s. Even though Jerusalem signed onto the sanctions regime against South Africa in 1987, it penned a $1.7 billion deal to sell Pretoria 60 refitted Kfir combat planes no longer in use by the IAF.
“The Kfir deal was therefore presented as an existing deal,” Haaretz reports. “It seems the French, who supplied the engines, used the same excuse.”