Yuli-Yoel Edelstein (Hebrew: יוּלִי־יוֹאֵל אֵדֶלְשְטֵיין, Russian: Ю́лий Ю́рьевич Эдельште́йн, Ukrainian: Ю́лій Ю́рійович Едельште́йн, born 5 August 1958) is an Israeli politician who served as Minister of Health from 2020 to 2021. One of the most prominent refuseniks in the Soviet Union, he was the 16th Speaker of the Knesset from 2013 until his resignation on 25 March 2020.
|1996–1999||Minister of Immigrant Absorption|
|2009–2013||Minister of Information & Diaspora|
|2020–2021||Minister of Health|
|Faction represented in the Knesset|
|2013–2020||Speaker of the Knesset|
|Born||5 August 1958|
Chernivtsi, Soviet Union
Yuli Edelstein was born in Chernivtsi in the Soviet Union (now Ukraine) to a Jewish family. His mother, Anita Edelstein, was Jewish, while his father, Yuri Edelstein, is the son of a Jewish father and Christian mother. Both converted to Christianity, and Yuri is now a Russian Orthodox priest in Karabanovo of Kostroma Oblast named Father Georgy. While his parents taught at universities in the countryside, Edelstein was raised by his maternal grandparents. His grandfather had taught himself Hebrew at the age of 70 and used to listen to the Voice of Israel on a shortwave radio. When Edelstein's grandfather died, Yuli began to study Hebrew and read books such as Exodus by Leon Uris, which inspired him.
In 1977, during his second year of university, Edelstein applied for an exit visa to emigrate to Israel. Turned down, he began to associate with a small group of Hebrew teachers who held classes in their apartments. One of Edelstein's students was refusenik Alexander Smukler.
In 1984, he and other Hebrew teachers were arrested on fabricated charges, Edelstein himself being charged with possession of drugs, and sentenced to three years. He was then sent to Siberian penal colonies and did hard labor, first in Buryatia and then in Novosibirsk. He broke several bones after falling from a construction tower. He was due to be transferred back to Buryatia, but his wife, Tanya, threatened to go on hunger strike if he was returned there.
Edelstein was released in May 1987, on the eve of Israeli Independence Day, the next to last of the refuseniks to be freed. He then emigrated to Israel, moving to the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut. He did his national service in the Israel Defense Forces, attaining the rank of Corporal.
Initially a member of the National Religious Party and a vice-president of Zionist Forum, Edelstein founded the Yisrael BaAliyah party together with fellow Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky. He was elected to the Knesset in 1996, and was appointed Minister of Immigrant Absorption in Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud-led government. He was re-elected in 1999, and was appointed Deputy Immigrant Absorption Minister by Ariel Sharon in 2001.
He retained his seat in the 2003 elections, shortly after which Yisrael BaAliyah merged into Likud. Although Edelstein lost his seat in the 2006 elections, in which Likud was reduced to 12 seats (Edelstein was 14th on the party's list), he re-entered the Knesset as a replacement for Dan Naveh in February 2007. He retained his seat in the 2009 elections after being placed twelfth on the party's list, and was appointed Minister of Information and Diaspora in the Netanyahu government.
In the same interview, Edelstein stated that he believes in Israeli-Palestinian coexistence. In 2014, he was one of several Members of the Knesset (MK) who submitted complaints against Arab-Israeli Haneen Zoabi for supporting Hamas, which led to her six-month suspension. "I have been in the Knesset for almost 19 years," Edelstein said. "I remember Arab MKs joining me at the March of the Living and proposing social-oriented legislation with me. That is definitely not Zoabi. I believe in coexistence and fighting against those who harm it and I think that Zoabi’s words and actions hurt coexistence. People hear her and think all Arabs must hate us and want to kill us. That is unhealthy, and we have to put an end to it.”
Edelstein criticized U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders for saying that U.S. military aid to Israel should instead be diverted toward aid to Palestinians in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. Edelstein said that Sanders should 'stop talking nonsense'.
After leaving Alon Shvut, Edelstein moved to Neve Daniel, another settlement in the West Bank. He was married to Tatiana (Tanya) Edelstein, who was a Zionist activist, for 33 years. They met in the Soviet Union when she attended a Hebrew class he was teaching. After immigrating to Israel, she worked as a civil engineer at the Civil Aviation Authority. Tanya and Yuli Edelstein had two children together. In 2014, Tanya died of cancer at the age of 63.
The long-term project of subsidizing housing for elderly migrants prepared by Israel Ministry of Absorption under his supervision and cooperation with Ministry of Construction raised controversy over expenditures overrun incurred by the project. Edelstein claimed that the investigative commission found such claims unsubstantiated.
His attempts to wait with the new Knesset Speaker vote to after the coalition talks,[clarification needed] following the 23rd Knesset election of 2020. When the Israeli Supreme Court ordered him to hold the vote.[clarification needed] Edelstein decided to resign instead of fulfilling the order, for which he was harshly criticized.
I continued with my course on civil engineering and construction during the day, and from 1980 onward, I studied Hebrew with Yuli Edelstein in the evening, behind closed doors.