Wednesday September 2, 2015
Israel Hayom
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Ruthie Blum

Funeral rearrangements

On Thursday evening, Channel 10's Or Heller, reporting from Johannesburg, expressed disappointment "as an Israeli" that neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor President Shimon Peres would be attending Tuesday's memorial service for Nelson Mandela or Sunday's funeral.

He also stressed that the South African Jewish community was angry and ashamed that only a second-tier delegation (Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and MKs Pnina Tamano-Shata, Dov Lipman, Nitzan Horowitz, Gila Gamliel and Hilik Bar) would be representing Israel at the events.

What Heller failed to mention, however, was the cause of the cancellations. But then, he was too busy taking part in the mourning festivities to do his job as a journalist.

Netanyahu's last-minute decision to forgo the trip was based on what the jaunt would have cost the Israeli taxpayer -- a whopping NIS 7 million ($2 million). This figure includes not only the flight and hotel bills for the premier and his entourage, but all the complicated security arrangements involved in getting the Israeli leader from one place to another -- especially in a country where pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist sentiment is high.

After last week's brouhaha over expenditures connected to Netanyahu's private residences, he and his advisers could just imagine what would be in store for him when the public caught wind of the gigantic bill it was funding for a quickie junket to a funeral -- even that of a revered revolutionary, beloved by liberal Jews in Israel and abroad.

Peres, whose paying of last respects to Mandela would have cost the taxpayer slightly less of a pretty penny than Netanyahu's, had to change his travel plans because he came down with a bad cold, and his doctor didn't think it would be a good idea for the 90-year-old president to spend 10 hours on a flight to South Africa with a stuffed nose and a fever.

Heller and his buddies in the Israeli media enjoy pouring salt into Netanyahu's wounds and rubbing it in, so whatever he does or does not do provides them with ammunition. But they should go easy on Peres in this case. After all, nobody in Israel is more disappointed about not attending Mandela's burial ceremony than he is.

This is not merely because the elder statesman adores globe-trotting for the purpose of hobnobbing, and everybody who's anybody is going to be at that funeral. It is also a result of Peres' being particularly partial to pomp and circumstance surrounding "human rights" and "peace," concepts that belong in quotation marks where attitudes toward Israel are concerned. It never ceases to boggle the mind that the Jewish state's chief figurehead is so outspokenly forgiving of his country's worst detractors.

And this brings us to another reason that Peres is undoubtedly devastated by his doctor's orders: He will miss the chance to see Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who might actually be among the guests at Mandela's graveside. And Peres has made it clear that he would be happy to meet the head of the Islamic republic.

Indeed, in spite of Iran's hostility to Israel -- and though Rouhani is only a pragmatic "moderate," using deceit to achieve nuclear hegemony -- Peres said on Sunday that "we don't consider Iran as an enemy."

In an interview with CNN's Richard Quest during the annual Globes Israel Business Conference in Tel Aviv, Peres explained, "Enemies [are] not a matter of a person, but a matter of policy. There were times [when] we didn't want to meet, for example, with [Yasser] Arafat. But the moment Arafat changed his policy, why not? We are for peace. And finally, I believe, [our] purpose is to convert enemies to friends."

Since Arafat never changed his policy of employing a combination of terrorism and bogus diplomacy to eliminate the State of Israel, it is interesting that Peres pointed to him as an example worth extrapolating in relation to Rouhani. In fact, the metaphor couldn't be more apt. As did Arafat (a buddy of Mandela's, by the way), Rouhani considers Israel "an illegitimate occupier regime" -- the "Small Satan" that the mullah-led regime would wipe off the map, while defeating the "Great Satan," America.

It is just as well that money matters are keeping Netanyahu from representing Israel in Johannesburg. But it is too bad that nothing prevents Peres from misrepresenting Israel, even when he stays at home.

Ruthie Blum is the author of "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'"


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