Netanyahu's Symbolic Absence

Israel is gradually being evicted from the international community because of its insistence on continuing the occupation.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to start curtailing his exorbitant expenditures, which are publicized from time to time and generally spark public outrage. But it’s too bad that the very first cut he opted to make resulted in Nelson Mandela’s funeral – an event that drew most of the world’s leaders, from presidents of the United States and European countries to leaders of controversial states like Iran – taking place without the participation of a senior Israeli representative.

Given the generous budget for travel and other expenditures that has characterized all of Netanyahu’s terms as prime minister (just last year, for instance, he insisted on flying in a specially-chartered plane to the funeral of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher), and given that Mandela’s doctrine and legacy (in contrast to those of Thatcher) are evidently not the pillar of fire that guides Netanyahu, 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, in both life and death, symbolized the idea of equality among all human beings and opposition to the apartheid regime, which subjected people to different laws based on race or ethnicity. 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.

Mandela spoke out in the past in favor of the Palestinian struggle – something that earned him no points with Netanyahu, who sees the Palestinians as demonic enemies with whom there is no possibility of dialogue. It’s also possible to infer that the core of Mandela’s struggle – the war on racism against blacks – doesn’t burn in the Israeli prime minister’s bones, since just this week Netanyahu and his coalition partners were busy passing the so-called Infiltration Law, which allows people to be jailed for up to a year without trial, and is aimed primarily at African migrants.

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. Israel is gradually being evicted from the international community because of its insistence on continuing the occupation and even reinforcing it via more and more settlements, while turning its back on diplomatic processes and initiatives. This situation, whose implications first began making themselves felt in the negotiations over the Horizon 2020 scientific cooperation agreement, endangers Israel no less, and perhaps even more, than the plethora of regional threats that worry Netanyahu, and about which he is constantly warning.

VIP's and dignitaries stand up for the start of the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium, South Africa, Dec. 10, 2013.Credit: AP

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