by Jenni Frazer 

Yuli Edelstein

Yuli Edelstein

The Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein has condemned the boycott campaign as “anti-Palestinian” and praised the British government for its stance on the issue.

Mr Edelstein was speaking at the conclusion of a two-day visit to London during which he addressed a joint meeting of MPs and peers, a separate meeting of 300 young activists, and a group of Jewish community leaders.

Mr Edelstein, a former refusenik who left the Soviet Union for Israel in 1987 after three years in various gulags, has been Speaker of the Knesset since 2013 and is a senior member of the Likud party. Calm and pragmatic, he spoke to journalists with the slightly weary air of a man who has said the same thing many times.

“I don’t like people who don’t put their money where their mouth is,” he said of the BDS campaigners. “They themselves don’t boycott Israel: they use iPhones and medical technology and computers. The day I see a BDS leader who will say, in my presence, that he is going to live in a cave and not use any of the modern technology which has been devised by Israel, then I might have some respect for him Until then, it’s a little bit…sad. They want other people to boycott Israel under the guise of helping the Palestinians – and actually it’s against the Palestinians”.

Mr Edelstein held talks with Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond during his visit, but admitted that although there had been many Opposition MPs and peers in his audience, he had not “gone out of my way” to seek a meeting with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Making it clear that he was wholly in favour of across-the-board representation, whether in Britain or Israel, the Knesset Speaker hit out at the proposed legislation in Jerusalem, the so-called “Suspension Bill”, aimed at Knesset members thought guilty of incitement. He wished such legislation were not in place, he said, adding that it would be “terrible” to have no Arab politicians in the Knesset – “but that is not going to happen, ever.”

Asked what plans were in place for marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration in November 2017, Mr Edelstein observed that November 1917 had been notable for “two sets of headlines” – the Bolshevik Revolution and the Balfour Declaration. Only one had retained lasting significance, he said – “and the state of Israel is flourishing”. He was hopeful that the British Foreign Office would back initiatives to mark the centenary, he said.