Sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke out Monday evening about the widespread media criticism over the prime minister's decision not to attend former South African President Nelson Mandela's memorial service in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
"When Netanyahu was planning to go, he was criticized for wasting money," a source said. "And when he [decided] not to go because of the high costs it would involve, he was criticized for his absence from the ceremony, giving the country a bad name. There is no limit to hypocrisy."
Another source close to Netanyahu said that "the prime minister never said he was going and therefore he never canceled his trip to the memorial service or funeral. When they [the critics] thought the prime minister would go, they complained that he was wasting 7 million shekels [$2 million]. When they heard he wasn't going, they criticized him for harming Israel's image. This criticism in personal, and not related to the issue."
Following the uproar over the flight to South Africa, the cabinet is expected on Sunday to approve the establishment of a public committee to discuss the possibility of acquiring an aircraft for official government use. The plane, similar in purpose to the American presidential aircraft Air Force One, would be used by the prime minister, president and Knesset speaker on their frequent diplomatic trips. The airplane would include all the communications and security apparatus required for trips taken by heads of state and government. A decision to establish a committee to look into this issue was first published in Israel Hayom three months ago, but since then no committee has been established and the issue has only resurfaced due to the uproar over the Mandela funeral.
The committee, which will be headed by former Supreme Court Justice and former State Comptroller Eliezer Goldberg, will also be given a mandate to examine the establishment of a common building for the Prime Minister's Office and official residence. If approved, construction of the new joint structure would be expected to take about five years.
The government did ultimately send a delegation to Mandela's memorial service. The delegation was headed by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who left for South Africa on Monday night with a group of MKs. The delegation includes MKs Pnina Tamano-Shata (Yesh Atid), Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid), Gila Gamliel (Likud), Hilik Bar (Labor) and Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz). The flight was organized by government travel agency Inbal, which rented a small plane for the occasion. Edelstein said he was happy that Israel would be represented at the service after all.
Edelstein went in place of President Shimon Peres, who canceled his participation after becoming ill with the flu.