International

Dec 9, 2013 5:18 PM by katc

Israeli leader backs out of Mandela funeral

Although nearly 100 heads of state will be in South Africa for tomorrow's memorial service for Nelson Mandela, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won't be among them.

An official says Netanyahu had been planning on attending, but he announced today that he'll be skipping that trip because of its high cost.

The Israeli leader has faced a series of scandals over his high-flying lifestyle and expensive habits. Last week, official records disclosed that he had spent $1,700 in government money on scented candles. Earlier this year, a TV station reported that he had spent $127,000 in public funds for a special sleeping cabin on a five-hour flight to London to attend Margaret Thatcher's funeral.

This trip would have cost an estimated $2 million -- including a charter flight for his entourage and a separate transport plane for security equipment.

Netanyahu described Mandela last week as one of "the greatest figures of our time" -- but Israel's relations with post-apartheid South Africa have been strained. Many in South Africa compare Israel's occupation of the West Bank to South Africa under apartheid, a charge that Israel rejects. And Mandela famously said that freedom of South African blacks "is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians."

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