Sometimes, a Knesset speaker is like the captain of a ship, working day and
night to make sure the vessel stays on course in even the stormiest of weather.
After a little more than six months on the job, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein
has already safely sailed through rough waters, but he expects the turbulence to
continue in the Knesset’s winter session, which begins on Monday and continues
“It’s going to be a very intense, rough session,”
Edelstein told The Jerusalem Post on the phone Wednesday, during a trip to Italy
in which he met Pope Francis and Italian government officials and
“Between equality in the burden of national service,
electoral reform and land in the Negev, there will be heated debates,” the
speaker warned. “Intensive parliamentary work will begin right away.”
course there’s one more issue that’s expected to come to a head this year: Peace
“Talks with the Palestinians didn’t reach the Knesset yet,”
Edelstein explained, “but if there’s progress, that’s one kind of issue for us,
and if there is not, it’s another kind of issue. Either way, there are
ramifications for the Knesset.”
Your stance on peace talks and a two-state
solution differ from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s stated
I won’t take advantage of my status to preach my opinions, but
at the same time, my status doesn’t change my opinions, and I won’t hide them.
It’s a matter of style in expressing opinions. I have almost 20 years of
experience [in the Knesset] and these are serious questions.
are only supposed to end in May. Why do you think the Knesset will have to deal
with them in the winter session?
There may not be anything significant before
Passover, but we also need to remember that there are intermediate stations. The
next time terrorists are released, there will be more than a little
Lawmakers often like to deal with contentious issues through
stunts, like the Arab MKs who ripped up copies of the Prawer Bill regulating
Beduin land claims in the Negev. What will you do to try to preserve the
I talked to many MKs after that incident.
handful of MKs cause disturbances; most behave well and are disturbed by those
who don’t. People even came to me of their own initiative and asked what to do.
I spoke to the MKs [who pulled stunts] and some apologized.
I hope that
our discussion will be enough to prevent further incidents. If it isn’t, I will
talk to the Knesset House Committee and ask it to give the Ethics Committee more
authority to punish MKs so they stop dishonoring the Knesset.
religion and state brought some of the Knesset’s most intense debates in the
last few months, and they’re likely to continue in the winter session. Do you
think it’s possible for the Knesset to deal with serious matters in such heated
The Knesset needs to discuss these matters.
I think we need
changes in the relation between religion and state and in the rabbinate, but as
a person who wears a kippa, I think they should be within the framework of
At the same time, looking at the current atmosphere, I would
suggest that everyone just calm down. The mood has become dangerous and will not
allow change. We’ve seen processes in which more haredim enlist in the IDF and
go to work, but now they’ve put up barricades.
Wanting reforms is
different from trying to crush your rival. That kind of attitude does not
respect the Knesset.
Speaking of hurting rivals, the opposition is up in
arms about the electoral reform bill currently going through the Knesset
Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. What do you think of proposals to
minimize or cancel weekly noconfidence motions, and the opposition’s claims that
I think changes to no-confidence motions have to come
Even the opposition understands that in its current
format, no-confidence is a farce. People who table the motions don’t even show
up to vote or give speeches.
At the same time, we can’t cancel
Maybe they can be reduced to every two weeks or once a month, but
we need to make sure to give the opposition a chance to express itself. To not
have any no-confidence motions is to empty the Knesset of any content and make
meaningless its job of supervising the government.
What about the
proposal to double the electoral threshold?
I’m not excited about a dramatic
rise in the electoral threshold. If we raise it by half a percent or 1%, we can
live with that, but I think raising it to 4% will hurt the Knesset and
I also haven’t heard any proposals to stop parties from
splitting up after the elections. In my opinion, [splitting parties] twists the
will of the voter. It’s a fraud, an inappropriate trick, and if it’s still
allowed, electoral reform won’t bring real change.
Last month, the High
Court of Justice annuled an anti-migration bill passed by the Knesset. What do
you think of judicial activism? What should the Knesset do now?
I don’t like
that the court can annul laws. We need to think more about how to maintain the
Knesset’s dignity and role.
However, I didn’t protest this particular
decision. I don’t agree with it, but I think the judges have a case. The law
contradicted a basic law.
With some minor adjustments, the anti-migration
law will be constitutional. It is the Knesset’s immediate mission to pass a bill
that the High Court can live with and give a response to the impossible
situation for residents of south Tel Aviv, Eilat and other areas.
Knesset is planning its largest ever delegation abroad to Auschwitz on
International Holocaust Remembrance Day. What are your expectations?
already called me and gave very positive, excited responses. I really hope it
happens. We need to think a lot about ways to make it respectable, but also
address current ramifications. We want a serious discussion with MPs from around
That particular trip aside, Knesset delegations abroad get a
bad rap, even though just this week, MKs Meir Sheetrit (Hatnua) and Aliza Lavie
(Yesh Atid) managed to stop a motion by Palestinian lawmakers to boycott Israel
and condemn settlements in the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Geneva. Why do you
think that is?
First of all, I want to say it’s great that MKs Sheetrit and
Lavie were able to torpedo that motion. It’s unfortunate that the instead of
wanting to talk about peace, the Palestinian delegation decided to boycott
I think the time has come for MKs to change their attitudes
toward inter-parliamentary conferences. The issue is that when they go abroad,
there are complaints in the press that they’re always traveling, and the MKs
themselves don’t want to look bad. Plus, we recently had cases where faction
leaders did not let MKs go.
[Opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich (Labor)
instituted a policy in which her MKs could not miss any votes on the budget
earlier this year.] Also, I spoke to the head of the Italian delegation to the
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe this week about the
anti-circumcision motion, and he told me that not one Italian was for
Parliament-to-parliament communication is very important, and if we
don’t have a presence, we can’t be surprised when negative decisions like
boycotts and making circumcision illegal pass. When you talk to people, there’s
potential for change. When you don’t, you get a slap in the face.
the delegations express opinions that differ from government policy? This week
you took a hard line on settlements in meetings with Italian parliamentarians
and Foreign Minister Emma Bonino.
In many cases, MPs don’t really know
what’s happening in Israel. They just repeat slogans like “settlements are an
obstacle to peace.” They need to hear a different analysis. We’re a democracy;
some people agree with me and some don’t.
[MPs from around the world]
need to understand that.
There are legitimate questions that can be asked
without making you an extremist on the Left or Right.