Knesset Speaker MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud) will represent Israel at Tuesday’s memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela, it was announced on Monday evening.
Edelstein will be accompanied by a delegation of five MKs: Hilik Bar (Labor), Penina Tamanu-Shata (Yesh Atid), Ronen Hoffman (Yesh Atid), Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid), Gila Gamliel (Likud) and Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz).
Prime Minister Binyamin originally planned to attend the memorial, but on Sunday night his office unexpectedly announced that the Prime Minister will not attend due to the high costs involved in the trip.
President Shimon Peres is also unable to take part, as he is down with the flu and was ordered by his doctors to stay in bed.
Members of the Jewish community in South Africa, as well as the South African ambassador to Israel, had reportedly expressed their disappointment that there would be no official Israeli representation at the memorial for Mandela, leading to the formation of the six person delegation.
MK Tamanu-Shata, who was born in Ethiopia and is the first female Ethiopian Knesset member, said on Monday evening prior to taking off for Johannesburg, "I am proud and excited to attend this historic occasion, when we say goodbye to a leader who changed the face of a whole nation."
"As someone who was born in Africa I feel privileged to represent Israel at the memorial ceremony for a black leader who made history with both his hands and changed not only South Africa but the whole world with sensitivity and the fight against racism and discrimination," she added.
Speaking before taking off on Monday night, Edelstein said, “Nelson Mandela was a freedom fighter, but even more importantly he was a man who knew that one does not fix injustice and violence with injustice and violence. The nation of Israel, which is represented by this versatile delegation, will remember him as someone who abandoned violence in his just struggle for equal rights for blacks and whites alike. I hope the day comes when regional leaders reject terrorism just like Mandela and choose dialogue in order to reach peace with Israel.”
Mandela, who fought against apartheid in his country and eventually became its first black president, died this past Thursday at the age of 95.
He was known as a supporter of PA Arabs, saying once that “if the Palestinians are not free, no one is free”, a statement which anti-Israel groups have taken advantage of to accuse Israel of applying a policy of “apartheid” towards Arabs.
Leaders in the Palestinian Authority have taken advantage of Mandela’s death and likened his fight against apartheid to their own struggle to achieve a Palestinian state on what they claim is “occupied Israeli territory.”
The South African ambassador to Israel said Sunday that Mandela did not hate Israelis but hated “oppression”, hinting at the fact that Israel was oppressing Palestinian Authority Arabs similar to how blacks were oppressed in South Africa.