More parliamentary speakers visited the Knesset during this year’s summer session than ever before.
“We receive a lot of requests to visit and I try not to say no to anyone,” Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein explained on Sunday. “I was told that in the past the Knesset tried not to have more than one foreign visit per month, but I don’t follow that rule.”
“We can’t complain about international isolation and bad public diplomacy and then not be welcoming to presidents, parliamentary speakers, foreign ministers and other senior officials,” he added.
Among the parliamentary speakers who visited the Knesset in recent months are Italian Senate President Pietro Grasso, Bundesrat President Stephan Weil, and Albanian Parliament Speaker Ilir Meta.
Nearly 60 foreign delegations from almost 30 countries visited the country during its summer session from May until August, including Bulgarian Prime Minister Georgi Bliznashki and Foreign Ministers Federica Mogherini of Italy and Louise Mushikiwabo of Rwanda.
Some of the delegations came during Operation Protective Edge and expressed support for Israel’s right to defend itself.
Still, Edelstein tries to focus on other issues when speaking to foreign visitors.
“Usually we meet with delegations from the Inter-Parliamentary Union or the European Parliament. When they try to teach us how to make peace, I politely ask them to bring MPs from the region next time so we can talk in a more constructive way,” he said.
The message Edelstein relays to most foreign visitors is: “The job of parliament speaker is one with a lot of authority, but it does not have the authority to sign peace agreements.
However, we sign agreements to cooperate with other parliaments.
We can have a constructive agenda on water, the environment, women’s rights, child protection, the war on drugs – things the Knesset works on – and help our constituency and theirs.”
Edelstein is open to working with parliaments in the Middle East, as well as Europe, and he says that such topics are much more interesting than a 15-minute conversation on the Israeli-Arab conflict that won’t bring any results.
In fact, a Knesset delegation was supposed to take part in an IPU-sponsored conference in Jordan in June, which Palestinian MPs were also supposed to attend, on the topic of water.
However, the conference was canceled after three teenage boys were kidnapped in Gush Etzion in June.
“We think it’s important for people to visit, and it’s something we encourage. It’s an inseparable part of the Knesset’s activities,” Edelstein said.
He pointed out that this year the Knesset inaugurated a special room for such visits, so that opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) and parliamentary friendship caucuses have a dignified space for their meetings with foreign officials.
In the past year, even more senior officials visited, with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and European Parliament President Martin Schulz giving speeches to the plenum that were met with varying levels of decorum by MKs.
As a result of the many interruptions, Edelstein is considering changing Knesset regulations ahead of the next high-profile international visit.
The speaker said he was “a bit embarrassed” by the heckling during Cameron’s speech to the Knesset, but that the British premier took it in stride.
“Cameron said it was a ‘fantastic session.’ With his British humor, he was okay,” Edelstein quipped.