By Benjamin Brown • 25 March, 2020
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein has resigned, the first time a Speaker has voluntarily left his job in the history of the State of Israel.
Edelstein’s resignation comes after Israel’s High Court ruled he had to call for a vote on his position by Wednesday 5 pm. The Likud politician and close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had announced he would disobey the ruling, accusing the court of “political interference in parliamentary proceedings” and stating he believed the ruling to be “incorrect.”
Announcing his resignation, Edelstein described the court’s ruling as “undermining Israel’s democracy” and stated it was not based on the letter of the law but rather “on an extreme interpretation.”
Controversy arose in recent weeks as Edelstein ordered a de facto shutdown of the Knesset citing fear over a further spread of the novel Coronavirus (Covid-19).
The main opposition party Blue and White sees Edelstein’s decision to close the Knesset as a move to cling on to power amid calls from the opposition to vote into power a new speaker. Blue and White leader Benny Gantz on Monday told MKs that the Likud was engaging in an “unprecedented act to bring the Knesset to a standstill.”
Edelstein had served as Knesset Speaker for seven years, having previously served as Minister of Immigrant Absorption and Minister of Information and Diaspora.
The politician was one of the most famous refuseniks, Jews denied permission to emigrate to Israel from the Soviet Union, imprisoned in work camps until he was allowed to leave for Israel in 1987.
“As someone who paid a heavy personal price, being imprisoned doing hard labor for years, because I wanted to have the right to live as a citizen in the State of Israel, no explanation is needed to explain how much I love the State of Israel and its people,” Edelstein stated in his resignation speech.
Blue and White politician and former Minister of Welfare and Social Services under Netanyahu Meir Cohen is expected to be elected as the new Speaker.
Edelstein has adjourned the plenum until Monday.
The latest battle in the Knesset has seen hopes of a unity government between the Likud and Blue and White go up in smoke with several Likud MKs ruling out the prospect of a coalition with Benny Gantz’s party after Blue and White moved to oust Edelstein from his role as Knesset Speaker.
A fourth election is becoming more and more likely as the battle for Balfour Street between the Likud and Blue and White turns increasingly bitter.