Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.
(photo credit: KNESSET SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein lauded Israel’s experience in absorbing immigrants and said integration is a way to fight extremism, in an address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on Thursday.
Edelstein began his speech to the parliamentary speakers from 50 countries by calling himself an immigrant.
“Just 29 years ago, I arrived in Israel from the Soviet Union, as one of the final dissidents to be freed,” he said.
“Today I proudly address you as the speaker of the parliament of a nation of immigrants – nearly one-third of Knesset members were born abroad.”
Though Israel’s view on immigrants differs from that of many other countries – “the people who arrive at our doorstep are our long-lost brothers and sisters coming home” – the tools and policies Israel has used in its multicultural society can be helpful to others, Edelstein said, adding that several European countries have already discussed the matter with Israel.
The speaker mentioned language classes, housing subsidies and benefits for small businesses as some of the ways Israel helps immigrants.
No matter where immigrants are, he said, their “experiences and the challenges they face are strikingly similar. The gaps in language, social norms and customs; the need to find a job and community – these are universal challenges that the immigrant faces, whether he is in Israel, France, Germany or any other country.”
Most immigrants arrive hoping for a better life for themselves and their children, and helping them succeed is a way to fight extremism, Edelstein added.
“A successful integration process probably will not prevent the fanatic wave of extremism we have witnessed lately... [but] by helping [most immigrants] integrate, we will make it much harder for the extremists and their leaders to spread their bloodthirsty doctrine among the younger generation of immigrants,” he said.
Edelstein called for parliaments around the world to fight terrorism “with full force,” while teaching tolerance and acceptance of immigrants so that they can better integrate economically and culturally, which will benefit both themselves and their new home country.
“If we do not rise to the task, I have no doubt our shortcomings will come back to haunt us,” Edelstein warned. “Let’s make sure they do not.”
Following his speech, Edelstein was scheduled to meet with several European parliamentary speakers including PACE President Pedro Agramunt, Riksdag (Swedish Parliament) Speaker Urban Christian Ahlin and Bundestag President Norbert Lammert.
PACE focuses on human rights and democracy issues and holds plenary sessions in Strasbourg. Its decisions are nonbinding, but are taken seriously as recommendations to its 47 states and the European Union.
MKs also celebrated the International Day of Democracy on Thursday by recording video messages about what democracy means to them in different languages.
MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union) spoke in English, MK Sharren Haskel (Likud) in French, MK Haim Jelin (Yesh Atid) in Spanish, MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) in Arabic, and Knesset Education, Culture and Sport Committee chairman Ya’acov Margi (Shas) in Hebrew.
Speaking with a framed copy of the edition in which The Jerusalem Post’s predecessor, The Palestine Post, reported the establishment of the State of Israel, Shai said: “If I look back to our history, I can really trace the democratic values that have always been an integral part of the Jewish people. Thus, the State of Israel, from its very inception, was, is and always will be a democracy.”
The MKs recorded the videos as part of Democracy 2030 – a project of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an international body for lawmakers – which examines the past, present and future of democracy.