Johannesburg — South African Jews blasted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his controversial decision to snub Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.
Amid public anger over Netanyahu’s bizarre claim that it would cost too much to attend, Jews slammed the move and expressed hope it would not diminish the outpouring of emotion from Jews over the death of the freedom icon.
“It’s an absolute disgrace,” said Zev Krengel, president of the South African Board of Jewish Deputies. ” This is the No. 1 Jewish citizen in the world and he cannot find a way to attend an event of this nature? It’s an absolute low point.”
Krengel said he was even more angered by the reason that Netanyahu gave for not attending.
“It will absolutely play into anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews as stingy people,” he said. “It’s very wrong.”
Krenger spoke out as ordinary South Africans expressed disgust at Netanyahu’s decision.
“It’s absolutely not right and I hope someone apologizes for it,” said Sidney Katz, 60, of Johannesburg. “One thing about Madiba is that he united all people, Jewish and non-Jewish, black and white.”
“Jewish South Africans feel as strongly about Mandela as any other South Africans, perhaps more so,” he added. “It’s embarrassing to us.”
Marion Soffer , who splits her time between homes in South Africa an d Beit Shemesh in Israel, said she hoped the issue was some kind of misunderstanding.
“Israel is 100% mourning for Mandela – I saw people crying in the street,” said Soffer, who flew to South Africa from Israel over the weekend. “No leader should seek to diminish the respect we all feel for him.”
She noted that President Shimon Peres had hoped to attend the memorial but was unable to do so because of illness.
Sitting with her daughter and two grandchildren in an airport coffee shop, she emphasized the strong bond that Jews worldwide feel for Mandela and his message of unity.
“He stood for democracy and reconciliation – those are our values too, “ she said. “Everywhere you go, you will find Jews joining the outpouring that is happening.”