"Most countries did not send their prime ministers or presidents to the memorial ceremony," Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said on Tuesday via telephone from South Africa, responding to criticisms of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who decided last minute not travel to Johannesburg for the memorial service of Nelson Mandela because of the high costs involved.
Edelstein, who represented Israel in Netanyahu's stead, said most countries sent delegations comprising lower-level officials. He said local officials were uncritical of the prime minister and President Shimon Peres for deciding not to fly in for the ceremony.
And while Israel's top politicians may have been absent, Edelstein insisted that the South African Foreign Ministry appreciated the Israeli delegation consisting of six MKs.
Ironically, in an embarrassing mishap, the president and prime minister's names were announced as present over the First National Bank Stadium speakers where the memorial was held.
The MKs who traveled to Johannesburg to represent Israel honoring Mandela were Pnina Tamano-Shata (Yesh Atid), Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid), Hilik Bar (Labor), Gila Gamliel (Likud-Beytenu) and Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz). Following the ceremony, they stopped to meet with the heads of the South African Jewish community. Edelstein said he spoke with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter on the sidelines of the ceremony.
He called the ceremony "very moving" and a "unique experience that won't be forgotten for many years."