Knesset Speaker Edelstein leading delegation to Mandela memorial

MKs Dov Lipman, Penina Tamanu-Shata, Nitzan Horowitz, Gila Gamliel and Hilik Bar to also attend service for anti-apartheid leader

Nelson Mandela, left, and Yuli Edelstein meeting in 1996. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Nelson Mandela, left, and Yuli Edelstein meeting in 1996. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein was scheduled to lead a delegation of six Knesset members to South Africa Monday night to represent Israel at a memorial service for Nelson Mandela on Tuesday.

The announcement came hours after President Shimon Peres announced he would not attend the memorial for medical reasons, and a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would also skip the trip, because of logistical and cost issues.

Edelstein is accompanied by Knesset Members Penina Tamanu-Shata (Yesh Atid), Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), Gila Gamliel (Likud), Hilik Bar (Labor), and Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid).

“I am glad that ultimately the State of Israel will have representatives at this important event,” Edelstein wrote on his Facebook page. “As a former prisoner of conscience, I had the privilege of meeting Mandela as a minister in ’96 during which we shared our experiences in prison and the struggle for our rights and therefore, from my perspective, there is a sort of closure here.”

Edelstein, who moved to Israel from the Soviet Union, served in prison from 1984 to 1985.

Some 91 world leaders, including US President Barack Obama and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, will attend the memorial. Mandela died on Thursday at age 95, after leading the fight to end apartheid in South Africa.

Mandela served as the country’s president from 1994 to 1999, and while supporting the Palestinian cause, was conciliatory toward Israel despite Jerusalem’s once-close ties to apartheid Pretoria.

Lipman, a US-born politician, said he would represent Israel with the “proper respect.”

“History will remember Madiba as an honorable man who fought for freedom, equality, justice, reconciliation and peace,” Lipman said in a statement, using Mandela’s tribal name.

Bar, a dovish lawmaker, said he remembered Mandela as a man who fought for justice everywhere, including in Israel.

“He fought first for equality and justice for his people in South Africa, afterward also for equality and justice in the rest of the world, and in the end one can say he fought also for justice and peace here in the Middle East, between us and the Palestinians,” he said in a statement.

Netanyahu’s decision not to attend was based on “the financial and logistic outlays” of the trip, an official told The Times of Israel on Sunday night. The costs for the flight and security arrangements were an estimated NIS 7 million for the prime minister, as opposed to the approximate NIS 1 million it will cost the Knesset to send the six representatives, Channel 2 reported.

While Netanyahu venerated Mandela last week as one of “the greatest figures of our time,” Israel’s relations with post-apartheid South Africa have been strained.

Many in South Africa compare Israel’s presence in the West Bank to apartheid-era South Africa, a charge Israel rejects, and Mandela famously said that “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

Last year, South Africa’s government decided that goods imported from Israeli West Bank settlements cannot be labeled “Product of Israel.” In 2011, the University of Johannesburg became the world’s first to impose an academic boycott on Israel.

Alon Liel, a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, said Netanyahu had made the right decision not to go to the funeral service.

“I think he should have said no from the beginning. Knowing Mandela and the circles around him… they dislike Netanyahu and his policies,” Liel said. “I don’t think South Africa would feel comfortable with his presence.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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