Netanyahu Cancels South Africa Trip Over High Travel Costs

Prime Minister was meant to join 150,000 people at memorial event for the late South African President Nelson Mandela.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a last minute decision not to participate in a memorial service for the late South African President Nelson Mandela, despite having notified the South African government that he would attend the event.

The decision was made in light of the high transportation costs resulting from the short notice of the trip and the security required for the prime minister in Johannesburg. The Prime Minister’s Office found that the trip would have cost roughly 7 million shekels ($1.9 million) – of which 2.8 million shekels (about $800,000) for chartering a private El Al plane and another 3.2 million shekels (about $910,000) for transporting security equipment and personnel on an Israeli Air Force plane, in addition to other costs.

The prime Minister was supposed to depart for South Africa on Monday to attend the memorial service.

A senior Israeli official said Netanyahu had planned on attending Mandela's funeral on Sunday at the village where he was born. However, out of respect for the family's desire to hold a funeral for relatives only, the South African government asked all heads of state to attend the memorial event on Tuesday instead.

As such, Netanyahu was going to attend the memorial service at Johannesburg's FNB stadium, where roughly 150,000 people are expected to show up.

Netanyahu was slated to participate in the ceremony and sit in the VIP area, which will be set up in the stadium for heads of state from around the world, including U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande, Iranian President Hassan Rohani, and many others.

It is unclear whether Netanyahu was going to meet with Obama on the sidelines of the ceremony, but a senior Israeli official said Netanyahu had planned on holding a meeting with representatives from the South African Jewish community at his hotel.

The prime minister was due back in Israel on Wednesday. A series of non-confidence votes in the Knesset scheduled for Monday were postponed due to his absence. It was unclear whether they will be brought forward now that his trip has been canceled.

Last week, it was revealed that taxpayers dished out 3.3 million shekels ($940,000) in 2012 to maintain Netanyahu’s three residences - 1.2 million shekels (about $340,000) above budget.

Netanyahu has his official residence in Jerusalem, a private home in Caesarea and another private home on Gaza Street in Jerusalem. The state spent 2.97 million shekels (about $845,000) to maintain the official residence in Jerusalem, 312,700 shekels (nearly $90,000) for the Caesarea home and 4,561 shekels ($1,300) for the Gaza Street home.

The Netanyahus used state funding for amenities such as flowers, catering, cleaning, maintenance, exterminating, fuel and kitchen utensils. The family also hired an architect for sealing and insulation.

A tribute to Nelson Mandela in a Johannesburg street.Credit: AFP
South Africans pay homage outside the house of the late former President Nelson Mandela in Houghton, Johannesburg December 8, 2013.Credit: Reuters

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