Yesterday, Yuli Edelstein was a defiant Speaker of the Knesset who ignored orders given by the High Court. Today, Edelstein is no longer Speaker of the Knesset. He held that exalted position for seven years from 2003 to 2020. During those years he was a dynamic representative of a democratic government.
Edelstein was born in Cernovitz ,then Russia and now Ukraine, to a Jewish mother and a father who converted to Christianity and became a Russian Orthodox priest, Father Gregory.
In 1987 while a student at university he joined a group of fellow Jewish students who were meeting to study Hebrew together. He applied for an exit permit to leave Russia for Israel but his request was refused. Subsequently, he was expelled from the university
He was later arrested by the KGB, the Soviet secret police, and spent three years in prison before being sent to a Siberian gulag where he suffered from the bitter cold. For several years he remained as what became famously known as a “prisoner of Zion”.
In 1979 he was freed and made aliyah to Israel. He gradually became involved in Israeli politics and made many contributions to political life in Israel.
Due to his many skills at writing and oratory, in 2003 he was elected by the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, to become its Speaker.
In that important position he served admirably and was admired and respected by all 120 members of the Knesset.
Under the government led by Binyamin Netanyahu the two became very close friends. Both respected one another.
And, perhaps not so suddenly, things began to change. In a dictatorial Netanyahu leadership, Edelstein remained loyal to him, defending him in numerous charges brought against him.
A few days ago he made the biggest mistake of his political life. He single-handedly closed the Knesset from functioning, dismissing the elected Knesset members.
That act brought him into a calamity. He was accused by non-Likud members of destroying Israel’s democracy. He was informed by Knesset members as well as by Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s distinguished president, that he was in violation of the law. The president lambasted him for his autocratic move which was a dangerous threat to Israel’s democratic principles of government.
He was ordered by the Knesset members and by the president to immediately re-open the Knesset.
Foolishly, he refused citing his authority as Speaker that he had legal right to dispense with the functioning of the Knesset.
The nation was appalled by his action but it was known that he was in Bibi’s pocket and did what he thought would meet with the prime minister’s approval.
Thousands of Israeli citizens marched on the Knesset condemning Edelstein for his refusal to obey proper procedure. Thousands saw him destroying the fabric of our national democratic system.
The Israeli public was furious and demanded him to open the Knesset for rules of governing. Still, he refused.
At that point, opposition leaders appealed to the High Court. The justices examined the case and determined that Edelstein had no authority to dismantle the Knesset and they served him with an order to immediately resume Knesset functions.
Stubbornly, Yuli Edelstein refused to obey the High Court’s order. The Knesset members decided to vote on electing a new Speaker but Edelstein insisted that only he had the authority to make that decision, knowing that he would not be re-elected. He refused to allow Knesset members to vote.
Once again, the High Court ordered him to obey its ruling but Edelstein replied that his conscience would not permit him to obey. He stated that the court had no authority to dictate to the elected Knesset. He declared the sovereignty of the Israeli parliament insisting that no court could intervene.
The pressure was more than he could bear and two days ago he submitted his resignation as Speaker of the Knesset.
Autocracy faded out and democracy was restored to Israel.
A new Speaker of the Knesset will be elected within hours. We wish him well and success. We have now happily overcome one of the most difficult and painful situations in our nation’s history.
A good man chose to make unlawful decisions. Democracy was at stake. Thanks to our president and to the justices of the High Court for their vital role in ending a turbulent time in our history.
With the exit of Yuli Edelstein, we are once again a democratic nation with a duly elected Knesset.