Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
MK Yuli Edelstein.

Likud MK Yuli Edelstein late Thursday night tweeted: “I started a personal project tonight. It won’t bring me votes in the primaries and there are no Likud members or Likud voters involved. Exactly the opposite. I met with the side that thinks differently, the one that has concerns.”

Above a video depicting close to a 3-minute conversation with anti-judicial reform activists, Edelstein noted: “Our nation is strong and inspiring, but it is at a crossroads and although a vast majority of the nation thinks there is room and a real need for changes in the judicial system – there’s fear and apprehension.”


On Tuesday, MK Edelstein was absent from the plenum vote on the incapacitation of a serving prime minister and overriding a supreme court annulment of a Knesset law or government action. Edelstein made sure to offset his absence with one of the opposition members (a routine and practice based on a long-established honor system), and both bills were passed in the first reading – but coalition whip Ofir Katz, who forbade offsetting deals for these two votes to show the overwhelming power of his side, was not amused. He sanctioned Edelstein for the remainder of the winter session.

For the record, Edelstein, a distinct Likud unicorn, is not a fan of the current supreme court, especially Court President Esther Hayut. In March 2020, he was serving as House Speaker when five supreme court judges ordered him to set a date for a Knesset session intended to replace him in a vote by a center-left-Arabs bloc of 61 MKs.

If you will, Edelstein was fighting Justice Hayut before anyone else on the right had even dreamed of challenging her tyrannical rule. He replied to the High Court’s call by saying that “with all due respect, to the extent that the honorable Court sets an ultimatum before myself and the Knesset, requiring me to hold the debate ‘no later than March 25, 2020,’ I am unable to comply. After all, this would mean that the Knesset’s agenda is determined by the Supreme Court and not by the Speaker of the Knesset, to whom this role is assigned.”

Eventually, Edelstein resigned from his speakership rather than obey Hayut, who rebuked him kindergarten teacher-style, stating that in his refusal to comply with the High Court’s initial ruling, he committed “an unprecedented violation of the rule of law.”

Yuli Edelstein, 64, was born in Ukraine to a Jewish mother and a father whose father was Jewish and his mother Christian. In 1977, he applied for an exit visa to emigrate to Israel and was turned down. In 1979, he co-founded the underground group City Project to train Hebrew teachers and provide Hebrew learning materials. He was expelled from the university shortly thereafter and was regularly harassed by the KGB and the police. In 1984, he was charged with drug possession and sentenced to three years of hard labor in Siberian penal colonies. He was released in 1987, and made Aliyah, settling in Alon Shvut in Gush Etzion. He enlisted in the IDF and was discharged with the rank of Corporal.

Edelstein co-founded Israel B’Aliyah with Natan Sharansky and was elected to three consecutive terms starting in 1996, following which the party was merged into the Likud. In March 2013, he was elected Speaker of the Knesset with a 96-vote majority and eight abstentions. In 2015 he was reelected with 104 votes, and in 2019 with 101 votes.

His first clash with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was over his insistence that the PM is not entitled to speak at the torch-lighting ceremony marking Israel’s 70th anniversary in 2018. Needless to say, Bibi was not amused. The Likud chairman was even less thrilled by the fact that Edelstein rode high on his popularity as Speaker and his daring to stand up to the PM, and came in first in the 2019 primaries, landing the second spot on the party’s slate. For Netanyahu, who is known for eating his young in Likud, those were two red flags.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein standing in front of refrigeration units packed with coronavirus vaccines, November 26, 2020. / Yossi Aloni/Flash90

In 2020, after his battle to the death with Justice Hayut, Netanyahu offered him the least desired post in his government when the pandemic was raging: health minister. Edelstein accepted and performed well, alongside the PM who injected himself into the vaccine procurement effort.

In the 2021 Likud primaries, Edelstein again scored the highest and was slated behind Netanyahu. Half a year later, he challenged Netanyahu for the Likud leadership but withdrew at the last minute. His “reward” was to be dropped to the 15th slot and, following the November win, be denied a ministerial post. He was given the chairmanship of the Knesset Security and Foreign Affairs Committee, where he succeeded in overturning the Gush Katif expulsion law, permitting the uprooted settlers of northern Samaria to return to their homes.

Yuli Edelstein is a dyed-in-the-wool right-winger, and his support for the judicial reform is not in doubt. However, he is fighting an underdog’s war to distinguish himself in a party that’s been all but completely subjugated by Netanyahu, who offered most of the juicy appointments to his right-wing coalition partners. While Netanyahu is fighting for his political life, realizing that without his role as the PM, he would be spending his days in court, watching hundreds of prosecution witnesses in his criminal trial.

Edelstein is preparing for the day after, when he envisions himself as the natural successor to Netanyahu, who would coalesce all the senior party officials, those in the Knesset and those punished by Netanyahu, who are more likely to give him their support than they do his natural rival, Nir Barkat.

Barkat, the former Jerusalem Mayor, is a hi-tech billionaire who claims his business skills are crucial in cultivating his political rise. Edelstein is no pauper either: he is married to businesswoman Irina Nevzlin, daughter of the oligarch Leonid Nevzlin, one of the 100 richest people in the world.

The good thing about this competition is that neither candidate would ever be suspected of taking bribes. Whatever for? As they said about the late US Vice President Nelson Rockefeller – he wasn’t on the take, he was on the give.


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