In his eleventh-hour decision against attending the funeral of Nelson Mandela, Benjamin Netanyahu proved that he is not the smug, petty, vindictive, waffling, in-your-face insulting man he seems. He’s something worse.
The problem is not so much that the prime minister had first informed the South African government that he would, in fact, attend the ceremony, alongside Presidents Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, French President Francois Hollande, and scores of other world dignitaries, among them Iranian President Hassan Rohani, in what is expected to be a world gathering unprecedented in scope.
Nor is the basic problem the fact that the decision was made so abruptly and with such lack of consultation, that the office of President Shimon Peres was thrown for a loop, and it was unclear if arrangements could be made to have Peres represent Israel in Netanyahu’s stead.
The problem is the reason Netanyahu chose to give: Money. The trip would cost too much. The problem, then, is the message Netanyahu has chosen to send:
My Israel, which so craves and demands legitimacy and recognition as a full partner in the community of nations, does not consider a man like Nelson Mandela, or a nation like South Africa, or the sentiment of an entire world, worth the price of a plane flight.
In sending this message, Benjamin Netanyahu has treated the passing of Nelson Mandela as he does every challenge in statecraft: He has addressed one problem by creating another.
His message is clear: My Israel, which spends untold tens of millions on such matters as bolstering and protecting settlement construction during peace negotiations with the Palestinians, or erecting detention facilities for African asylum seekers rather than formulating coherent and just refugee policies, has nothing left over for this man Mandela.