Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to attend Nelson Mandela’s memorial service speaks of Israel’s growing isolationism

Some will dispute the Israeli prime minister’s excuse of 'cost' issues

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Given the inspiring example of the man whose memorial service was attended by almost every leader or deputy leader of the world’s more significant powers, it is surely time for Jerry Dammers and the rest of The Special AKA to bury the hatchet. The author of “Free Nelson Mandela” and his bandmates fell out many years ago. But if they would undergo a peace and reconciliation process and reform, you have to imagine that Coventry’s finest would wish to rework Dammers’s gloriously upbeat protest song in the cause of arguably the most glaring, and certainly the most heart-rending, Soccer City absentee of yesterday.

Well, something must be done to liberate Benjamin Netanyahu – who cancelled his trip to South Africa on cost-cutting grounds – from the poverty that imprisoned him at home. The profits from a worldwide hit record would, at the very least, be a useful first step.

Regrettably, if predictably, some will dispute the Israeli prime minister’s explanation, divining other reasons for the 11th-hour refusal to attend. They think that $2m – the alleged price of chartering an El Al jet to Johannesburg and deploying a military plane for his security detail – is not, in these unique circumstances, a huge outlay. In real terms, in fact, factoring in any moral obligation to pay respects to Mandela on behalf of the Israeli people, they calculate that it equates to a little less than thruppence ha’penny.

Such sceptics would further point out that this devotion to penny-pinching represents a startling change of heart. Bibi had become well known for his taste for Cuban cigars – who knows, he might have snaffled a box of Cohibas in the VIP zone from Raul Castro – and venerable French cognacs. Long, long ago, in the April of 2013, under a less punishing financial climate in which he felt entitled to go to such events, he authorised the diversion of £127,000 from public funds to equip a plane with a bespoke sleeping cabin for the marathon five-hour flight to London for Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. Meanwhile, he has lately dipped into the public coffers to find $1,700 for scented candles, $22,000 for a water bill at his holiday home, and $3,000 for ice cream at his favourite gelateria.

Taking such expenditure into account, and unconvinced by his conversion on the runway to Jo’burg, the cynics and sneerers suspect that Bibi, to borrow from Mrs Thatcher’s Lincolnshire dialect, was frit. That he was scared of being booed in the stadium by those who remember that Israel was the apartheid regime’s last and doughtiest friend in the developed world, and by those who detect similarities, however vague, between the maltreatment of black South Africans and the subjugation of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Others may wonder if he took fright at the prospect of bumping into Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, of whose bona fides on the nuclear issue he remains mildly unpersuaded.

Are they so deaf that they cannot hear, in his insistence that the only thing keeping him away was the cost, the authentic ring of plain truth? He is not so blind, after all, that he cannot see the metaphorical message his self-imposed isolation from his leadership brethren sends to the world about Israel’s growing isolationism and quickening journey towards pariah statehood under his muscular stewardship. And even if he is, what brand of maniac would waste possibly the hottest ticket in human history if a feasible way might have been found to raise the cash?

I like to think that he did not waste it entirely, and sold it on e-Bay (it would have raised enough to keep him in vanilla scoops and Monte Cristos for a while). That, or he generously gave it away, perhaps to some lucky tobacconist, ice cream vendor or aircraft carpenter who played the Tommy Cooper role at the Royal Variety show, when he asked the Queen if she was going to the FA Cup final. She said that she had no such plans. “In that case, Ma’am,” said Cooper, “can I have your ticket?”

Anyway, spare a thought for the anti-FW de Klerk of Israel as he stoically endures his church (or synagogue) mouse existence at the head of the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the region. And  now  sing along as we anticipate the Dammers’s reworking of that protest classic, looking ahead to the day he completes his long walk to freedom  from unflinching monetary shackles,  and feels able once again to honour departed figures of planetary importance with his presence.

Free (free) Bibi Nethanyahu,

Free (free) Bibi Nethanyahu

He’s so poor, you would  not believe

He’s so broke that he could not leave

Penniless, stuck in Tel Aviv

Free-eeeeee Bibi  Nethan-yahuuuuu

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