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Yuli Edelstein

(1958 - )

Yuli Edelstein is an Israeli politician, former government minister and the current Speaker of the Knesset.

Edelstein (born August 5, 1958) was born in Chernovitz, part of the former Soviet Union (today Ukraine), to Jewish parents.  His parents, Yuri and Anita, however, later converted to Christianity but Yuli formed a connection to Jewish culture through his grandparents.

He went on to study foreign languages at the Moscow Institute for Teacher Training and during his second year of university, Edelstein decided to apply for an exit visa and emigrate to Israel. However, an exit visa required an affidavit from relatives abroad, a problem faced by many Soviet Jews. As a result, he made up a story of his grandfather having an illegitimate son in Israel, and found some Israelis who agreed to pose as his relatives. In 1979, he submitted his application for an exit visa. The application was rejected, and Edelstein was expelled from university.

Edelstein began studying Hebrew during this period, first on his own, then with an underground Hebrew teacher named Lev Ulanovsky. After Ulanovsky received an exit visa to Israel in 1979, Edelstein himself became an underground Hebrew teacher. In 1984, Edelstein and a number of other Hebrew teachers were arrested, he was charged with possession of drugs and sentenced to three and a half years. He was then sent to Siberian gulags and did hard labor, first in Buryatia and then in Novosibirsk. He was released in May 1985, after serving one year and eight months of his sentence.

In 1987, he was finally given permission to emigrate to Israel. Edelstein immediately was drafted and served in the Israel Defense Forces, attaining the rank of corporal. He later joined the Israeli political world, first as a member of the National Religious Party.  Later, he founded the Yisrael B'Aliyah party together with fellow Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky. In 1996, he was elected to the Knesset and was appointed Minister of Immigrant Absorption in the government of the Benjamin Netanyahu. Edelstein 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 B'Aliyah merged into the Likud Party. Although Edelstein lost his seat in the 2006 elections, in which Likud was reduced to 12 seats, 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 January 2013, Edelstein was reelected to the Knesset for Likud and on March 18, 2013 he was elected by the Knesset plenum as the 17th Speaker of the Knesset.

Edelstein is married with two children.

Sources: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Wikipedia