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March 30, 2014 7:57 pm

After Foreign Leaders Heckled, Knesset Speaker Promises ‘Very Serious’ Crackdown (INTERVIEW)

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Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Pope Francis. Photo: Speaker's Office.

The Speaker of Israel’s parliament, Yuli Edelstein, vowed to put an end to a string of embarrassing incidents that recently greeted visiting world dignitaries at the Knesset, he told The Algemeiner in an interview during a visit to New York that ended Sunday.

“There’s no doubt that before the next visit I will try to take very serious measures in order not to have one single incident ever again in front of a foreign dignitary,” the parliamentary chief said.

Citing a newspaper report, Edelstein admitted he was “turning red” when catcalls and a walkout by Arab and ultra-Orthodox Knesset Members preceded an address by British Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this month.

“I kind of respect my colleagues, and I would prefer seeing them behave like members of parliament,” he said, describing the behavior as “just unspeakable.”

In January, two Arab MKs heckled Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper as he spoke before Israel’s lawmakers. A month later, a speech from Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, also drew walkouts and heckles.

Edelstein compared the raucous behavior to a public argument between a husband and wife.

“I guess in many families from time to time there is an exchange of harsh sentences between a husband and wife,” he said. “It happens, unfortunately, but I sincerely hope that in most cases it doesn’t happen in front of 30 guests that they invited to their house.”

In terms of what tools he specifically plans to use, Edelstein who according to the Knesset’s website is responsible to represent it externally, preserve its dignity, the decorum of its sittings and the observance of its Rules of Procedure said he would work within “the procedural code” of the Knesset to apply rules for the “special sessions” with foreign dignitaries.

The next major world leader to visit Israel will be Pope Francis I, who will arrive in May. Despite a personal invitation from Edelstein, the Pope’s itinerary for the visit, released by the Vatican last week, does not include an address to the Knesset.

In his role as speaker so far, Edelstein has made a point of calling on major leaders to deliver remarks before Israel’s representative body. When French President Hollande backpedaled on plans to speak there Edelstein made an issue of it, canceling a plan to meet the President, according to reports.

Now Edelstein describes that incident as a “misunderstanding.”

“He took it as a sport,” he said. “He made a nice joke in the beginning of his speech about it…Probably someone misadvised him on what speaking to the Knesset means, but then he himself – President Hollande – described it as the highlight of his visit to Israel.”

Last year, when U.S. President Obama visited Israel, he chose to bypass the Knesset. He was condemned by Edelstein’s predecessor Reuven Rivlin, who described the decision as “worrying.”

“Three American presidents have spoken on the Knesset stage, as well as [Egyptian president Anwar] Sadat and leaders from Europe,” Rivlin said at the time, according to The Jerusalem Post. “President Obama should speak to the people of Israel through its elected representatives.”

But Edelstein says that Obama wasn’t even invited as his visit coincided with a changing of the guard in Israeli politics.

“I can’t accuse President Obama because his visit was being planned when there was no speaker,” he said. “There was no government and no speaker. If you recall, I was elected speaker two days before Obama landed in Israel. So basically there was no one to say to the American ambassador to Israel ‘we would like the president to address the Knesset.'”

However, even if he had been invited, Edelstein asserted that it is quite possible Obama would have declined.

“I don’t know what the outcome would have been, but definitely if I were the speaker I would have invited him,” he said. “I do have to say that during his visit… I said to him, ‘Mr. President, you owe me one, because now everyone asks how come you were not in the Knesset.'”

“If the president decides to come again,” he added, “I sincerely hope that it will be a stage that he will use.”

To begin with, an invitation to address the Knesset is not extended to many visiting leaders.

“It’s a great honor to address the Knesset,” Edelstein said. “I have a list of dozens of dignitaries, heads of state, heads of parliament [and] prime ministers who visit, meet in the Knesset, had a working meeting, met probably some friendship league or the leader of the opposition or whatever the case might be, and left without addressing a plenary session. It’s not that every head of state needs to get the honor to address a plenary session.”

In the meantime, it remains one of the Edelstein’s priorities to make the Knesset the “central ground” for “foreign dignitaries to address the Israeli people.” His energy right now is directed toward ensuring that his efforts are not undermined, he said.

If visitors will unwittingly be drawn into shouting matches and domestic politics, “then I’m not sure that I have the heart… to approach the next visitor to Israel, the head of state [or] head of parliament and tell him that the only ground to address the Israeli people is the Knesset. He will rightly ask whether he should expect, you know, some kind of ‘stone throwing’ during the session.”

In the meantime, there is still time for Pope Francis to reconsider.

“I think it’s a powerful message,” Edelstein said. “We all understand the Pope’s position. He doesn’t take sides or whatever, but in the Knesset, Jews and Muslims, Christians and Druze are all represented, and if the Pope comes with a message of co-existence and peace, it’s a very powerful message.  And I think that if that happens that could be very significant, a very historic visit.”

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  • Yoel Nitzarim

    Good! Finally! I remember sitting in the audience during one session at the Knesset only to hearing yelling, screaming, cursing, and wild, uncontrolled behavior, sometimes physically threatening, on behalf of some Knesset members. Such behavior is totally anathema to any forum in which adults participate, let alone in the very parliament of a sovereign nation. Disagreements should and must occur in such a forum; nonetheless, outrageous behavior must not only be discouraged, but absolutely outlawed. A guest prime minister, member of parliament or Congress, cabinet member, clergy person, or other speaker invited to the Knesset must have the attention and respect of every Knesset member without exception. In addition, walking out on a speaker is abominable, childlike behavior and should also not be tolerated. The Knesset is not the UN, a farce on a global scale. the Knesset constitutes the will of the people of Israel–Arab, Jew, Muslim, Christian, Ba’hai, Circassian, Druze, Bedouin.

  • Given the history associated with other foreign dignitaries speaking to the Knesset I doubt if the Pope will take up the opportunity.

    Israelis should understand the decorum associated with visiting statesman, religious figures, who are guests of Israel. Perhaps not?

    Israel who has demonstrated almost genius level competance in public relations should have some system for dealing with this not insurmountable problem?

  • m_

    Whether the Pope addresses the Knesset should be a private matter discussed before the Pope’s arrival. It would be a wonderful thing and yes, an historic event if the Pope chooses to address the Knesset. However, no world leader such as the Pope has an obligation to address the Knesset. All political factions should agree to respect a religious leader such as the Pope if he chooses to address the Knesset. It should also be remembered that it is an honor for the Knesset to have a guest of the Pope’s stature. It works both ways. The Pope will find a way to reach out to all of Israel I would certainly hope whether he addresses the Knesset or not. I certainly hope he does address the Knesset and is given a warm welcome there.

  • THIS MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT HAS NOT YET CALLED ISRAEL BY ITS NAME***ISRAEL*** THE POOP IN 1936 SAID JEWS WILL NEVER HAVE ISRAEL WE ARE THE NEW JEWS

    LOOK UP PROPHET ESAUV SPEAKING IN THE NAME OF HASHEM , THE ONLY ONE G-D WHO DESPISES ESAUV WHO ARE THE XTIANS….

    EVIL CAME TO THE WORLD FROM ESAUV THE XTIANS…
    MISSIONARIES OPEN NEXT TO SHULS DRESSED LIKE SHUL TO DECEIVE THE JEWS.

    YOU MAY POST THIS, you may not.. the only antidote against the most evil on ISRAEL IS TO LEARN TORAH…

    WHEN THEY OPEN IN THE MIDDLE OF FLATBUSH BROOKLYN, NEXT TO A YESHIVA HAYM BERLIN AND THE SPEHARDIC YESHIVA SHAARE TORAH WITH SUCH BRAZENESS DRESSED LIKE RABBIS, THE XTIAN DO NOT FEAR US OF THE ONE G-D OF ISRAEL….

    THE WAR HAS STARTED, MASHIACH IS ON THE WAY…. WE MUST PREPARE THE WAY FOR ISRAEL THE NATION TO HAVE AN EASY TRANSISTION FROM THE LAST WAR OF MASHIACH BEN YOSEF.

    THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT WITH HIS SWEET SMILE IS NO DIFFERENT FROM THE SNAKE WHO GAVE CHAVA/EVE THE FRUIT.

    THE JEWS ONLY FRIEND IS HASHEM.
    CERTAINLY NOT THE REFORM/CONSERVATIVE SHMUELY BOTEACHS AVI WIESS’ SCHLOMO RISKINS THE BEN STARRS….

    OUR TRADITION HASNT CHANGED FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS..
    ALONG COMES ANOTHER BRAND TO TAKE YOU AND ME AWAY FROM MT ZION…

    WHAT DOES HASHEM WANT..NOT WHAT AVIWEISS AND COMPANY WANT. SUDDENLY THEY KNOW MORE THEN ALL OUR RABBIS AND WRITINGS OF OLD?

    WAKE UP
    GO TO THE ONE G-D
    NOT MODERN DISCIPLES OF JESUX.

    YOU ISRAEL MUST HECKLE THESE APIKOROS.
    YOU MUST CHASE THEM AWAY TO A CITY FAR AWAY FROM US

    WE ARE THE LIGHT….
    THEY ARE DARKNESS.

    • Alex

      You mnst be Zvika, the religious idiot.

  • Bernard Ross

    no one wants to be heckled in a speech to a parliament of another country when invited to speak. Its rude to treat invited guests in such a manner. Those who heckle should be banned from future speeches of foreign leaders.

  • Efram

    Obama has been president for nearly six years. The reason he does not want to address the Knesset is that he regards Israel as illegitimate. He is an Islamist, who would be happy to address any Arab parliament (if they had any), but not Israel’s. He does not want to offend any of his terrorist buddies.

    • zadimel

      No! This is Zvika, the religious idiot.

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