Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein addresses Russian parliament in Moscow, June 28, 2017.
(photo credit: COURTESY KNESSET SPEAKER'S OFFICE)
MOSCOW – Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, a former Prisoner of Zion, on Wednesday became the first Israeli to address the Russian parliament, speaking about the turnaround in ties between the two countries.
Yuli Edelstein began by pointing out the historical significance of his speech to the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament.
“Thirty-three years ago, I was a prisoner here in Moscow, [held] by the authorities of the Soviet Union, for the crime of teaching the Hebrew language,” Edelstein said, speaking in Hebrew.
“I was imprisoned because I taught the language that told the world of the rejection of tyranny and the rise of just rule, love of humanity and the hope for freedom.
“The language in which the prophets of Israel prophesied about the day that ‘nation will not lift up sword against nation, and they will no longer learn war.’ I was imprisoned because I acted to spread the language in which Abraham, the founder of the Jewish people, was told: ‘Go from your land, the place you were born, the home of your father, to the land I will show you.’ Only after nine years as a refusenik, including three years of hard labor in the Gulag, could I also follow in Abraham’s footsteps,” he added.
Edelstein said he never could have dreamed he would reach such a moment, which he described as coming full circle twice – first for himself and second for the Jewish people.
Continuing in Russian, Yuli Edelstein reviewed the history of the countries’ relations, starting with the USSR siding with the Arab countries and breaking off ties following the Six Day War.
“Luckily, and for the good of our two nations, those days are in the past,” he said.
Edelstein praised the growing diplomatic and economic ties between Israel and Russia, and the contribution of a million Russian-speaking Israelis to the change.
In a pointed message to Russia about its alliances in the Middle East, Edelstein addressed threats to Israel.
“I’ve met experts who claimed that Hezbollah is not a gang but a semipolitical organization. But as long as Jerusalem isn’t ‘liberated’ from Zionist control, the mission of the semipolitical organization’s leaders will never be complete,” he explained.
“The situation in the South isn’t better.... Hamas has no consideration for the lives of Israeli civilians and has been fighting a war of terrorism against them for years. But they treat the Arab residents of Gaza with the same disregard....
Every missile shot at Israel from the Strip is worth dozens of boxes of diapers, medicine, toys, food.”
Iran stands behind both of these terrorist organizations and is trying to turn Lebanon and Syria into bases to broaden its control of the region and “spread its ideology of hatred, which threatens all nations in the Middle East,” Edelstein said.
“There is a great danger in these attempts, due to the fact we know well the attempts of many years by Iran to develop weapons of mass destruction.... Iran’s destructive actions spread far beyond the Middle East. Almost every terrorist attack against Israelis in any place in the world – whether in Thailand, Argentina or Bulgaria – the traces of blood always lead to Tehran.”
The Knesset speaker said terrorist attacks anywhere in the world are no different from those in Israel and should not be categorized as done by the right or wrong terrorists. He called to unite and fight terrorism side by side.
“Terrorism,” he said, “has taken the place of Nazism as the ultimate evil of the 21st century, and the spirit of 1945 must be revived to fight it.... This spirit will allow close cooperation to fight terrorism, to share information and experience. We can move toward a world in which no one will have to look into the eyes of a mother who lost her only child to a terrorist attack.
I believe it’s possible.”
Edelstein ended the speech with a prayer for peace in Jerusalem, in Hebrew.
Earlier on Wednesday, Edelstein visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin Wall, where he recited Psalms.
Following the speech, Edelstein visited several locations from his life as a refusenik in Moscow, including the Arkhipova Synagogue, now known as the Moscow Choral Synagogue; the apartment block he lived in when he was arrested on trumped-up drug charges; the courtroom in which he was sentenced to three years of hard labor in a prison camp; and the prison cell he spent several months in before being sent to the Gulag.