Yuli Edelstein
Yuli EdelsteinYonatan Sindel / Flash 90

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) delivered a historic speech on Wednesday before the Russian Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament in Moscow.

Edelstein, who was invited for an official visit by Federation Council Chairwoman Valentina Matviyenko, gave the speech exactly 30 years after he served a three-year sentence in a Soviet labor camp for his Zionist activities.

Though the honor of giving the first speech is usually reserved for heads of state, in this case Edelstein received it.

"Thirty-three years ago I was imprisoned here in Moscow by the authorities of the Soviet Union for teaching the Hebrew language," Edelstein said in Hebrew. "I was imprisoned because I was teaching the language which spread to the world the ideas of rejecting tyranny, upholding the rule of justice, love of mankind and the hopes of freedom; the language in which the prophets of Israel foretold the day on which 'Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; nor will they learn war anymore.'"

"I was imprisoned because I worked to disseminate the language in which Abraham, the founder of the Jewish religion, was told 'Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land I will show you.'

"Today, I stand before you as the Speaker of Knesset Yisrael, and, in the same language which I was imprisoned for teaching, I bless you with the ancient Jewish blessing: 'Shalom Aleichem'! Even in my finest dreams, I never believed I`d reach this moment.

"For me, this brings double closure: For me, Yuli Edelstein, and for the entire Jewish nation, which I stand here as its representative."

Speaking in Russian, Edelstein mentioned Israel's resilience and survival despite the many wars it has fought, while stressing that the country still faces numerous threats, including Iran-backed Hezbollah in the north and Hamas, "which chooses terror over the well-being of Gaza`s citizens," in the south.

Regarding terrorism, Edelstein said, "In the 21st century, terror has replaced Nazism as absolute evil. We see almost every week vehicles running over innocent bystanders, and suicide bombers blowing up school children at concerts."

"We must create an atmosphere of mutual respect between the different countries. An atmosphere that will facilitate closer cooperation in the fight against terror, so that no one will have to look into the eyes of a mother who lost her only son in a terror attack.

"I believe this is possible. We can defeat terror, but only by boldly fighting against it, side by side."

Concluding his speech, Edelstein requested to convey a message from Jerusalem in Hebrew.

Jerusalem, he said, is "the eternal capital of the Jewish People, from which the message of justice and the war against evil has been coming out for nearly 3,000 years."

Edelstein then receited, "Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces. For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say: 'Peace be within thee.' For the sake of the house of the L-rd our God I will seek thy good."

Edelstein then embarked on a tour of Moscow, during which he will visit sites that were significant in his life's story: places where he was active as a Refusenik, the site of his arrest, the courthouse where his trial took place, the prison in which he was incarcerated, and more.

Edelstein`s visit to Moscow is taking place, symbolically, 30 years after his release from a Soviet labor camp.

Edelstein began his official three-day visit to Moscow Tuesday afternoon with a meeting with the Chairwoman of the Federation Council (upper house of the Russian parliament), Valentina Matviyenko. He was greeted warmly by Matviyenko, signed the guestbook at the entrance to the Federation Council, and presented his host with a bouquet of flowers.

During their work meeting, Matviyenko thanked Edelstein for accepting the invitation to visit Moscow and said she believes the visit will "strengthen the relations between our countries and parliaments."

"I am also awaiting your speech tomorrow at the plenum of the Federation Council," Matviyenko said. "I visited Israel twice last year, and we are planning many meetings between the parliaments at various levels."

"The parliamentary friendship groups of the Knesset and the Federation Council will work on a 'road map' for the continuation of our joint work."

"Our excellent relations, which we will continue to develop, are generally focused on two things," Edelstein responded. "One is how to further strengthen the economic and cultural ties through joint parliamentary activity. And the second is how to discuss our differences of opinion in an in-depth, honest and serious manner in order to narrow the gaps."

"I believe this visit presents an opportunity to discuss everything that has already been mentioned, as well as additional matters we will begin to deal with starting today.”

"It is known that our region is sensitive, and Russia is playing a significant role in it. Therefore, it is very important that we continue the cooperation and resolve the differences of opinion between us, if they exist."

Regarding the claims that Moscow interfered with US elections, Matviyenko said they were "hysteria which does not correspond with reality." Russia, she stated, has not intervened in any election, "just as we would not want anyone intervening in our affairs."