Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, accompanied by five lawmakers, will represent Israel at the a memorial service for the late South African President Nelson Mandela on Tuesday.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres opted not to attend; the prior due to the high cost of travel and security and the latter because he was advised by doctors not to make the trip after coming down with a case of the flu.
Edelstein and MKs Pnina Tamano-Shatta (Yesh Atid), Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), Gila Gamliel (Likud), Hilik Bar (Labor) and Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid) will fly to South Africa on Monday night.
After hours of negotiating to try to reduce the estimated half a million shekels the trip was slated to cost, Edelstein succeeded in bringing down the price to $100,000, (3.5 million shekels), half of which will be paid from the Knesset budget. The trip was organized by the Inbal government travel company, which leased a small plane for this purpose.
Edelstein will represent the State of Israel alongside dozens of world leaders and some 30 heads of parliament. Later on Tuesday, Edelstein and the MKs will meet members of the South African Jewish community, and hold other meetings if deemed necessary.
“I’m pleased that in the end the State of Israel will be represented at this important event,” Edelstein said. “As someone who was a prisoner of conscience in the past, I had the privilege of meeting Mandela in 1996, and we shared stories of our experiences in prison and in battling for our rights. As far as I’m concerned, this is a type of closure for me.”
More than 70 world leaders are expected to attend the memorial service.
Netanyahu made the last-minute decision not to participate, 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.