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‘No one needs to educate me about democracy’

After making one of the more fateful decisions in his own and the country’s history on Wednesday, Yuli Edelstein sat down for an exclusive interview with Israel Hayom to explain why he went to war with the Supreme Court and refused to obey its order to convene the Knesset to elect his replacement.

Q: They say you shut down the Knesset.

“This is a lie that sadly reached many people in the country. On Wednesday last week (the day the ‘Knesset was shut down’ campaign began) not only did I not close the Knesset, I artificially extended the discussion in the plenum. Only in the evening, when I closed the plenum, I immediately declared it would reopen on Monday. It pains me for the citizens who sat at home and had to listen to lawmakers, jurists and pundits tell them the Speaker shuttered the Knesset, which never happened.”

Q: In your resignation announcement, you essentially refuse to obey the Supreme Court’s directive. Is this not anarchy?

“There’s no doubt my action was unprecedented, but everything that’s happening is unprecedented. The High Court of Justice took control of the executive branch a long time ago, and that’s clear. Now we also have an attempt to seize control of the legislative branch and its procedures. These are things that have never been seen.

“I’ve been in politics for 24 years, seven of them as Speaker of the Knesset; I opposed any attempts by the High Court to intervene in political decisions, and that’s what I did now as well. It’s true this is the first time someone has told them ‘no,’ but I took this action as Speaker of the Knesset and as someone who is upholding the status and independence of the Knesset; not as a private citizen. What I did doesn’t mean that any citizen can say ‘no’ to a judicial ruling. This isn’t a traffic violation. I acted here as the responsible adult, and according to Menachem Begin’s legacy of ‘there will not be a civil war.’ I didn’t push the matter to the edge, I resigned. I cannot be forced to do things that in my view are a danger to democracy and are against my conscience. I hope that this right, to resign as a conscientious objector, the High Court will still afford me.”

Q: ‭They have 61 MKs, how can you as Knesset Speaker not allow the majority to convene and vote?

“The Knesset has protocols, it has the law and it has a statute. Do you know how many times I blocked the majority of the recent governments, of my own party, when they wanted to trample the minority?! I acted according to the rules and the judges didn’t present one legal argument refuting this.

“They disrespected the Knesset and the institution of the Knesset Speaker. They didn’t read my attorneys’ legal opinions because 25 minutes after they were submitted the judges already issued their ruling. I think the judges need to ask themselves how it came to pass that a person such as myself, who doesn’t need to be educated about what democracy is, who has never come out against the High Court and who has only respected the court over the years, finds himself pushed to the wall to the point where he has to take such action.”

In the full interview, which will be published on Friday, Edelstein also addresses the other allegations against him. He reveals that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t know in advance about his resignation and warns that appointing a Speaker without the Likud’s agreement will lead to a fourth election.

Header: Israeli Knesset chairman Yuli Edelstein submitted his resignations

Notes: Yuli-Yoel Edelstein (Hebrew: יוּלִי־יוֹאֵל אֵדֶלְשְטֵיין, Russian: Ю́лий Ю́рьевич Эдельште́йн, Ukrainian: Ю́лій Ю́рійович Едельште́йн, born 5 August 1958) is an Israeli politician. One of the most prominent refuseniks in the Soviet Union, he has been Speaker of the Knesset since 2013 until his resignation on 25 March 2020.

In 1977, during his second year of university, Edelstein applied for an exit visa to immigrate to Israel. Turned down, he began to associate with a small group of Hebrew teachers who held classes in their apartments.

In 1979, he was expelled from the university and suffered harassment by the KGB and local police. During this time, he found odd jobs as a street cleaner, security guard, and more.

In 1984, he and other Hebrew teachers were arrested on fabricated charges, Edelstein himself being charged with possession of drugs and sentenced to three years.

He was then sent to Siberian penal colonies and did hard labor, first in Buryatia and then in Novosibirsk. He broke several bones after falling from a construction tower. He was due to be transferred back to Buryatia, but his wife, Tanya, threatened to go on hunger strike if he was returned there.

Edelstein was released in May 1987, on the eve of Israeli Independence Day, the next to last of the refuseniks to be freed. He then immigrated to Israel, moving to the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut. He did his national service in the Israel Defense Forces, attaining the rank of Corporal.