Forty-nine delegates representing 25 countries and their parliaments gathered at the Knesset this week for a three-day conference on parliamentary administration. Knesset Director General Albert Sakharovich said the gathering was intended both to celebrate Israel’s upcoming 70th anniversary and to highlight Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein efforts in recent years to ramp up the Knesset’s international profile.
“Of course the timing is relevant,” Sakharovich told Tazpit Press Service (TPS). “But there’s more to it than that: We are trying to position the Knesset as international leaders” in areas such as enhancing cooperation between parliaments, ensuring parliamentary accessibility for the public and legislative transparency.
Conference sessions included an overview of the “Green Knesset” initiative, the Knesset’s campaign to operate in a more environmentally friendly manner, as well as visits to the Knesset Guard, Visitors Center, the Western Wall, the Yad Vashem National Holocaust memorial, as well as a full day in Tel Aviv.
The event was highlighted by Ilana Trombka, a Jewish, Hebrew-speaking Director General of the Brazilian Senate, who broke down in tears during the opening session saying “I never dreamed the day would come when I would speak here in the Knesset, in Hebrew, as an official representative of Brazil.” Another delegate, Wojciech Sawicki of the Council of Europe, also became emotional, explaining that his father was a Holocaust survivor and had served as a member of the pre-state Palmach militia, fighting in 1947 to establish the State of Israel.
The event, which included delegations from Armenia, Belarus, Brazil, Canada, Cyprus, the Council of Europe, the Czech Republic, the European Parliament, Germany, Ghana, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Rwanda, Sweden, Switzerland, Uganda, and Ukraine, followed a similar gathering in December for six African heads of parliament.
Deputy Secretary General of the European Parliament Markus Bruno Winkler told TPS that the European Union felt it necessary to send a delegation in order to show its appreciation for Israel on its 70th anniversary, as well as to gain practical knowledge from day-to-day operations of the Knesset.
“I think this is a very positive initiative,” Winkler said. “It’s a good idea to celebrate the 70th anniversary through this conference. (Issues of) accessibility, transparency, and other questions are also things we are facing in the European Parliament.”
Despite the stated goal of holding a professional conference on parliamentary norms that would be replicated in future years in other capitals, it became evident quickly that the event would also serve another, unrelated function: Building political support for Israel’s security challenges on the international stage. Knesset Speaker Yoel (Yuli) Edelstein used the occasion to brief the visiting parliamentarians on the security situation on the northern and southern borders, particularly with regard to Iran’s proxy army, Hezbollah.
“In military terms [Hezbollah] is stronger than many countries…including many countries represented around this table. They are a semi-state, with a whole budget and goal and reason d’etre being attacking Israel,” he said. Hamas, too, had outgrown the description of a “terror organization” and now appears more like a semi-state with a complex and highly developed military capability,” Edelstein added.