Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein addresses Russian parliament in Moscow, June 28, 2017.
(photo credit: COURTESY KNESSET SPEAKER'S OFFICE)
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein made history in Moscow yesterday. For one of the former USSR’s most famous refuseniks – Prisoners of Zion – to address Russia’s parliament 30 years after his release from the Siberian gulag is nothing less than another Russian Revolution vis-a-vis world Jewry.
This is a world where the infamous czarist forgery known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is still a best-seller in its Arabic translation after a century of antisemitism. It is also where Russia is daily becoming more involved in Syria’s civil war on the side of an Iran bent on Israel’s annihilation.
In his unprecedented address to the upper house of Russia’s legislature, the Federation Council, Edelstein not only celebrated his personal liberation from being held hostage like so many fellow Jews were for his desire to live in Israel. His visit to Moscow deepens Israel’s strategic relationship with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. This is an important step that shows just how far the Jewish state has come in the 30 years since Edelstein escaped the gulag.
“Even in my best dreams, I didn’t believe I would reach this moment,” Edelstein told the Russian lawmakers in both Hebrew and Russian; covertly teaching the former language to fellow Jews wanting to make aliya landed him in 1984 a sentence of three years at forced labor. “Shalom aleichem!” he greeted the Russian parliamentarians, to sustained applause.
Edelstein devoted his 15-minute address to Israel’s many security challenges in the new age of worldwide terrorism, using an image the Russian people know all too well: the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. He pointedly described Islamist terrorism as the “Nazism of the 21st century,” calling on the new Russia to join in the defeat of the current face of “absolute evil.”
“For years, tidings have come from Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, of justice and the war against evil,” he declared. “Even today, Jerusalem is leading the fight against terrorism, and we will not rest until we win this war and peace is achieved.”
To this end, Edelstein made a point of encouraging the Russian lawmakers to create “an atmosphere of mutual respect between different countries,” saying that Israel would gladly contribute in creating “a global alliance against terrorism.”
He enumerated the threats to its security that Israel faces from every direction, from Hezbollah in the north to Hamas in the south and from Russia’s Iran rally in the Syrian civil war. He chose to not mince words in noting Russia’s present role in the conflict, citing the previous Soviet stance leading up to and including the Six Day War, whose 50th anniversary Israel is celebrating.
After his appeal to leave the Soviet Union was rejected in 1979, Edelstein taught Hebrew and Jewish history covertly until his 1984 arrest on a trumped-up charge of drug possession. After a kangaroo trial he was sent to various labor camps in the Siberian gulag until, in May 1987, after serving two years and eight months at hard labor he was released. Edelstein immigrated to Israel two months later with his wife, Tatiana, who has since died.
Edelstein praised Israel’s relationship with the new Russia of increasing security and economic ties, proudly linking the phenomenon with the invaluable contribution of more than a million Russian-speaking Israelis who have made aliya.
Edelstein’s trip to Moscow comes at an important time for Israel, which on the surface seems like it is being sucked into the Syrian quagmire with the ongoing clashes along the border. Russia is heavily deployed in Syria and will play a pivotal role in determining the future of Israel’s northern neighbor. Whether Bashar Assad remains in power and whether ISIS is defeated largely depends on Russia. The continued cultivation of ties with Moscow will be needed to ensure that Israel’s security interests are taken into consideration when some sort of arrangement is reached in Syria.
At the legislature, Edelstein pointedly ended his historic speech with a prayer for peace in Jerusalem, delivered in Hebrew. One of the roads to that peace runs today through Moscow.
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