Yuli Edelstein is one of the most honest Israeli politicians - opinion

Edelstein was not among his colleagues surrounding Netanyahu during the prime minister’s attack on the court and the law enforcement officers at the opening of his trial.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
It seems that from all the demands raised by Benny Gantz as a condition for joining Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, the one he fully achieved was the removal of Yuli Edelstein from the position of Knesset speaker.
The justification of Gantz’ request was Edelstein’s refusal to enable the election of a new speaker during the swearing in of the 23rd Knesset or shortly afterward. Edelstein justified his decision by an effort to enable negotiations to form a unity government. I believed that he erred in his decision and criticized him in writing. I did so in spite of the fact that Edelstein relied on the wording of the Knesset Rules of Procedure, which provide: “The Speaker shall be elected no later than the date on which the Knesset convened for the purpose of establishing the Government.” Edelstein relied moreover on “consensual usage according to which the Knesset acted for many years.”
The Supreme Court ordered, however, that Edelstein must convene the Knesset in order to elect a speaker within the next 48 hours. Edelstein refrained from doing so. He declared that his conscience did not permit him to obey the order and resigned “since I do not wish to degrade the High Court but I feel that I got caught in an impossible situation.” It should be mentioned that some scholars criticized the court’s order as infringing the delicate balance between the Knesset and the Judiciary.
Gantz’s ultimatum brought about the election of Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin with the support of the Blue and White Party. This is quite amazing. Levin condemned the High Court’s ruling, urging Edelstein not to resign but rather to defy the justices.
This is what Levin said: “The court has officially taken control of the Knesset, and from today, the High Court has turned the Knesset speaker into a rubber stamp as the Knesset and plenary are being managed by the justices.” He added: “there’s nothing like this in any democracy. I urge the Knesset speaker to announce that only he will determine when the plenary convenes and what its agenda shall be.” In a frontal attack Levin teased the court saying that if Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut wished to place herself above the Knesset, she was invited to arrive together with the court’s guards and open the plenary Knesset. “This way it will become clear that we are dealing with a coup of a handful of judges who elect themselves in the dark.”
Such words could never be heard from Edelstein. Neither would he have shown disrespect to the president of the Supreme Court when in her presence Levin lashed out at the courts and “the clerks” during the festive session of the swearing in of the new Knesset. Neither would he have express mistrust toward the Central Elections Committee – headed by a Supreme Court judge – as Levin did.
In spite of being second in the Likud Party, Edelstein was not among his colleagues surrounding Netanyahu during the prime minister’s attack on the court and the law enforcement officers at the opening of his trial. Neither did he appear in any of the court hearings or criticized the court or the attorney-general.
I had the privilege of getting to know Edelstein during the lengthy deliberations of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on adopting a constitution. I got to know him even better when I escorted the members of the committee on a study tour to the parliaments and supreme courts of the US and Canada. I can unhesitatingly declare that he is one of the most honest Israeli politicians. No wonder that he was elected speaker of the 19th Knesset by 96 MKs with merely eight abstaining. To the 20th Knesset he was elected by a sweeping majority of 104 with no objections or abstentions. We are nearing the election of the president of the State of Israel. I am certain that Edelstein is the most appropriate figure for this position who will be able to unite our divided society. If I were Gantz, I would have recommended Edelstein as candidate.
The writer is professor of law, dean of the Peres Academic Center Law school and honorary deputy president of L’Association internationale pour la défense de la liberté religieuse.