A day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he would not be making the trip to the memorial service of late South African civil rights legend Nelson Mandela, the office of nonagenarian President Shimon Peres told The Times of Israel that he would also not be attending.
“The president will not be going to South Africa,” the president’s spokesperson said. “He’s recovering from flu, and he’s taking his doctor’s advice not to travel. He really wanted to go.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein will represent Israel at the ceremony, heading a delegation of five Knesset members.
The last-minute arrangements reportedly led to confusion and concern within the Israeli leadership and in the South African Jewish community that Israel might wind up with no official representative at the ceremonies. At one point, Channel 2 reported, consideration was given to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni being flown to South Africa from the US, where she was attending the Saban Forum, along with President Barack Obama on Air Force One.
Mandela died Thursday at the age of 95.
On Sunday, a government official told The Times of Israel that Netanyahu, too, was “seriously considering going” to the memorial service in Johannesburg, but “when it was clear what the financial and logistic outlays” of a trip would entail, it was decided that it was “unfortunately impossible,” the official said.
The former South African president, who died last week after months of illness, will lie in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria from Wednesday to Friday. During these days, official memorial services will also be held in all provinces and regions.
On Sunday, December 15, Mandela will be laid to rest in a state funeral and burial at Qunu, in the Eastern Cape province where he was born.
After Mandela’s death, Peres called Mandela “a leader of immense stature who changed the course of history.”
Netanyahu said Mandela was “a figure that set one of the greatest examples in our time. He was a father to his people, a man of vision, a freedom fighter who opposed violence.”
“He will be remembered as a moral leader of the first order,” said the prime minister.
At least 70 world leaders and all living American presidents will be in attendance, as well as 26 members of Congress, according to NPR, quoting South African officials.
Ilan Ben Zion contributed to this report.