Why won’t Trump address the Knesset while in Israel?

In the past, the legislature's Speaker Yuli Edelstein criticized leaders who didn’t come to parliament, but now he’s keeping mum.

May 17, 2017 21:55
2 minute read.

The Knesset. (photo credit: ITZIK EDRI/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)


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When US President Donald Trump visits next week, he is set to give a speech in the Israel Museum, just a short walk from the Knesset.

However, he is not scheduled to visit the legislature at all, let alone deliver an address to its members.

In the past, Speaker Yuli Edelstein sharply criticized world leaders who snubbed the Knesset. In 2013, he expressed disappointment that US President Barack Obama did not come to the parliament, opting to speak to a group of university students instead. Soon after, when French president François Hollande did not put the Knesset on his agenda for a trip to Israel, Edelstein declared him persona non grata in the legislature. The pressure worked, and Hollande ended up speaking in the Knesset.

However, Edelstein has kept mum about Trump’s non-visit.

The Speaker’s Office said: “The president’s visit to Israel is considered a work visit and not an official visit. As such, it does not require a visit to the Knesset.”

Some, however, are not buying that line of reasoning.

Deputy Knesset Speaker Hilik Bar (Zionist Union) told The Jerusalem Post: “I think Trump should speak here. We’ve had the prime minister of Canada here, and even people who are less friendly, like the president of the European Parliament.

“Trump should come and be a guest of honor. He’ll be respected by all the factions, which is a continued expression of the alliance between our nations,” Bar said.

In recent cases in which world leaders addressed the Knesset, lawmakers from Arab parties interrupted and heckled them, which could be a source of hesitation for the legislature to officially invite Trump.

For example, when then-Canadian premier Stephen Harper addressed the Knesset in 2014, several now- Joint List MKs interrupted him repeatedly, telling him to sit with the Likud lawmakers.

Bar, however, said that should not be an excuse.

“If the Knesset doesn’t know how to deal with interruptions, then it does not respect itself. If that’s the reason, I don’t accept it,” he said.

“I think Trump would be respected by all, and any minor interruptions would be dealt with.”

Earlier this year, Edelstein said some MKs’ behavior when foreign leaders visit deterred him from inviting them.

“I understand the tool of interruption, but I don’t think that it is part of international parliamentarian culture, it is Knesset culture,” Edelstein said at a House Committee meeting in February. “Because of these incidents, I found myself once asking world leaders to avoid speaking in the plenum, because I was afraid it would be disgraceful.”

MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) responded that interruptions are a legitimate parliamentary tool, and that the Knesset is “not a cathedral.”

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