Knesset Speaker declares French president ‘persona non grata’

French president snubs Knesset, opting to appear before university students instead. Knesset Speaker Edelstein responds in kind, won’t invite French dignitaries to ceremonies.

French Embassy reports: President Hollande’s schedule still not final.



French President Francois Hollande is not welcome in the Knesset, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein declared Wednesday.

Hollande speaks during the opening of the Qatari-French Business Forum in Doha June 23, 2013.

Hollande speaks during the opening of the Qatari-French Business Forum in Doha June 23, 2013.- Photo: REUTERS/Mohammed Dabbous

Hollande decided to speak to university students, not the Knesset, during his visit to Israel in three weeks, and Edelstein responded to the snub in kind.

“Whoever disrespects the Knesset does not deserve the Knesset’s respect,” Edelstein wrote on Facebook. “International leaders cannot belittle the Knesset, the elected parliament of the State of Israel, and ignore it. As speaker of the Knesset I am determined to protect the dignity of our nation and its representatives, the MKs. I will not allow Israeli democracy to be humiliated and turned into a doormat.”

Previous French Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac gave speeches in the Knesset’s plenum, and Hollande was scheduled to do so as well, but canceled.

Explaining why a lack of a speech is grounds for not even meeting with Hollande, Edelstein told Army Radio “there are 119 other MKs. If Hollande chose to speak to students, imagine how those MKs would feel if he came and met with me and we had our picture taken together.”

New French Ambassador to Israel Patrick Maisonnave will not be invited to any official Knesset ceremonies, nor will any other French dignitaries or ministers visiting Israel.

“There are plenty of events in universities. I’m sure the French officials will be too busy to find time for the Knesset,” Edelstein remarked sarcastically.

As for how Hollande is different from US President Barack Obama, who also chose to address students and not the Knesset, Edelstein said he was disappointed then, too, but Obama visited Israel shortly after the government was formed and the situation in the Knesset was messier than it is now.

Former Knesset speaker MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud Beytenu) said that Hollande’s decision not to speak in the Knesset, right after Obama did the same “is a worrying sign for Israeli democracy and expresses a lack of faith in the representatives of the people to whom he is speaking.”

“The Knesset is a symbol of Israeli sovereignty and with all the respect we have for the French, avoiding speaking to the people from the Knesset’s stage is wrong,” Rivlin wrote on his Facebook page.

A French Embassy spokeswoman said she was “surprised” to see Edelstein’s reaction, because Hollande’s schedule is not finalized yet.

“There is no need to react like this. The president wants to show his attachment to Israeli democracy and its representatives and wants to go to the Knesset. We are in touch with the Knesset to find the best time for [Hollande] to come, working with the Knesset’s scheduling constraints. We’re working on options and trying to be accommodating,” the French Embassy spokeswoman stated.


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