In May 1987, Yuli Edelstein arrived in Israel after being held as a prisoner of Zion in a Soviet jail for over three years. Exactly 30 years later, he is planning a return trip to Moscow, this time as speaker of the Israeli Knesset and by invitation of the country that once imprisoned him.
The trip, which is set to take place in the last week of July, will be the first by a Knesset speaker to the Russian parliament and will include a rare address by Edelstein to a special session of the Federation Council upper house. The speech will be split between Hebrew and Russian and focus not only on Israel-Russia relations, but on Edelstein’s personal experience and journey from the Soviet Union to Israel, according to his spokesman.
Edelstein will be welcomed as a guest of Federation Council Chairwoman Valentina Matviyenko, who extended the invitation after visiting the Knesset last year and signing a cooperation agreement with the Israeli legislature.
Edelstein is scheduled to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin and a number of Russian lawmakers. He will also meet with the leaders of the Jewish community in Moscow and visit the city’s Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center.
But beyond the high-level diplomatic meetings, the trip holds a particular personal significance for Edelstein, who was sent to Soviet prison on trumped-up drug charges after being caught teaching clandestine Hebrew lessons.
Denied a request to immigrate to Israel, Edelstein became a prominent prisoner of Zion with his then-wife Tatyana leading the efforts to free him. He was released in May 1987, on the eve of Israeli Independence Day.
”Obviously it will be a special and moving visit. The goal is to further develop the excellent relations between the countries, particularly the ties we have developed between the Knesset and the Russian parliament, which are better than ever,” Edelstein said in a statement Monday announcing the trip.
“But clearly one cannot ignore the symbolism of the visit — which could have seemed like a fantasy only a few years ago — in which someone who was a prisoner in the Soviet Union will stand at the podium of the parliament in Moscow and deliver a speech as the speaker of the Israeli Knesset,” he added.
To mark that symbolism, shortly before arriving at the parliament, Edelstein will visit the Moscow apartment where he taught Hebrew, the site of his arrest, and the prison he was held in before being transported to a Siberian work camp.
Edelstein will be accompanied on the trip by a delegation comprising MKs Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu) and Yoel Razvozov (Yesh Atid) and Knesset Director-General Albert Sakharovich.