Knesset Speaker Yuli (Yoel) Edelstein marked the 30th anniversary of his release from a Soviet labor camp Wednesday with a speech to the Russian Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament.
Edelstein, was imprisoned for two-and-a-half years in Siberia, from 1984-1987, for teaching Hebrew. On Wednesday, he opened his speech in Hebrew, implying that the language exemplified his struggle with the Soviet Union, and said the event helped him close an important personal circle.
“I was imprisoned because I was teaching the language which spread to the world the ideas of rejecting tyranny, upholding the rule of justice, love of mankind and the hopes of freedom; the language in which the prophets of Israel foretold the day on which ‘Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; nor will they learn war anymore.’
“I was imprisoned because I worked to disseminate the language in which Abraham, the founder of the Jewish religion, was told ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you’,” he said in Hebrew.
Continuing in Russian, Edelstein turned to the subject of global terrorism and said that radical Islam has replaced Nazism as a defining evil of the 21st century.
“We see vehicles running over innocent bystanders and suicide bombers blowing up school children at concerts almost every week,” Edelstein said. “We must create an atmosphere of mutual respect…an atmosphere that will facilitate cooperation in the fight against terror, so that no one will have to look into the eyes of a mother who lost her only son in a terror attack. I believe this is possible. We can defeat terror, but only by boldly fighting against it, side by side.”
The speech was the highlight of Edelstein’s three-day state visit to Moscow, which began Tuesday afternoon with a meeting with the chairwoman of the Federation Council, Valentina Matviyenko.
Matviyenko noted that she visited Israel twice last year, and thanked Edelstein for accepting the invitation to visit Moscow. She added that the visit would ”strengthen the relations between our countries and parliaments.”
In response, Edelstein thanked his host for the warm welcome and said Moscow and Jerusalem must maintain open channels of communication in the “sensitive” Middle East.
“Our excellent relations, which we will continue to develop, are generally focused on two things: One is how to further strengthen the economic and cultural ties through joint parliamentary activity. And the second is how to discuss our differences of opinion in an in-depth, honest and serious manner in order to narrow the gaps… Our region is a sensitive one, and Russia is playing a significant role in it. It is very important that we cooperate and resolve the differences of opinion between us, if they exist,” Edelstein said.
Edelstein will also visit the site of his arrest, the courthouse where his trial took place and the prison in which he was incarcerated, before meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Thursday, he will attend a reception for leaders of the Jewish community before returning to Israel.