Mar 9, 2022 - World

Israeli parliament declined to hold special session for Zelensky speech

Zelensky addresses the European Parliament. Photo: John Thys/AFP via Getty

The speaker of Israel's parliament, the Knesset, declined to convene a special session for a video address from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, three Israeli officials tell Axios.

Update: The two sides have now agreed that Zelensky will address members of the Knesset on a Zoom call in the coming days, according to Knesset speaker Mickey Levy, who came under criticism after Axios reported that he had rejected Zelensky's request for a special session.

Why it matters: Zelensky is trying to rally global support for Ukraine, and is also one of the few Jewish world leaders outside of Israel. He previously addressed the U.K. and EU parliaments, receiving standing ovations from both.

  • A source in the Knesset said Zelensky's speech will be public and open to the press the same way as a Knesset plenary session, but the lawmakers will log in remotely.
  • Levy also released a statement Wednesday saying he couldn't convene a special session because the plenary hall is being renovated next week.

Behind the scenes: The Ukrainian ambassador to Israel presented a formal request to Knesset speaker Mickey Levy on Wednesday morning, which happened to be the last day of the current legislative session.

  • Mickey replied in writing that it would be "an honor to facilitate such an address," but that because the Knesset would be on recess and many members would not be present in the building, it should be held remotely.
  • Levy's aides say he consulted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before replying, and the ministry said it would not be opposed to such a Zoom call.
  • One Israeli official said the Ukrainians were highly disappointed by the reply. The Ukrainian ambassador declined to comment.

Between the lines: Zelensky's speech to the British parliament — in which he invoked Winston Churchill and quoted Shakespeare — was shared widely in the U.K. and around the world.

  • At a time when he is trying to mobilize global support for a stronger response to Russia's invasion, a private Zoom call will offer a much smaller platform.

The latest: After this story broke, Levy released a statement saying he couldn't convene a special session because the plenary hall is being renovated next week.

Worth noting: Zelensky did hold a Zoom conference with members of both houses of the U.S. Congress, rather than addressing a joint session.

Go deeper: Israel's Bennett emerges as key mediator between Putin and Zelensky

Editor's note: The story has been updated with the news that the Knesset will host Zelensky over Zoom.

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