Dubai: As dignitaries from around the world came together Tuesday to remember Nelson Mandela, only one Arab head of state showed up, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The lack of attendance by Arab leaders was viewed by observers as embarrassing, since the South African leader and peace activist was and continues to be a major source of inspiration for Palestinians fighting Israeli occupation.

Arab leaders have long expressed their outrage over Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and are the first to cite it as the “biggest” problem in the Middle East. Yet none showed up to remember the great man who embodied the struggle against oppression and apartheid.

Embarrassing as well is that perhaps South Africa, a non-Arab country, has done more to draw attention the struggle of Palestinians than any other Arab country.

Palestinian activists have compared Mandela’s struggle against apartheid to theirs against Israeli occupation and some increasingly look to South Africa for help in pressure campaigns against Israel.

Many South Africans also equate the Israeli treatment of Palestinians with their former apartheid regime’s abuse of blacks. Last year, South Africa’s government decided that goods imported from Israeli West Bank colonies cannot not be labelled “product of Israel.”

In 2011, the University of Johannesburg became the world’s first to impose an academic boycott on Israel.