Azmi Bishara: A Brilliant Threat

By Asaad Talhami
If there is one solid bit of truth that comes out of the Israeli press coverage of the spurious case concocted against Azmi Bishara it is that the Zionist establishment is of one mind that eliminating this Knesset member will eliminate a major obstacle to its drive to force Israeli citizenship on the Arabs residing within Israel’s self-defined borders. The case, itself, rests on the position papers drawn up by various Arab parties and NGOs on the relationship between the Arab minority and the state and that, according to the Israelis, promulgate the idea voiced by Bishara and other intellectuals 10 years ago that Israel should be a state for all its citizens; a heresy, now, espoused by the majority of Arab political forces in Israel.

The Hebrew press, forever at the beck and call of the Israeli military establishment, recently indulged an unrestrained orgy of invective, incitement and malice, its primary objective being to besmirch Bishara’s name and reputation.

To Haaretz commentator Uzi Benziman, the Jewishness of Israel is an immutable article of faith that overrides all other considerations. He writes, "Bishara’s case highlights the crossroads that relations between Jews and Arabs inside the Green Line have hit." He continues: "the turning point was in the formulation of position papers by leading organisations of the Arab community ("Ten Points, ‘The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel’, a proposed constitution" and the "Haifa Declaration", which has yet to be officially published). The documents are being woven like an orderly ideological and political doctrine challenging the current character of the state of Israel… In practice, these documents lay the ideological foundation for the uprising of the Arab Israelis against their state."

Apparently Benziman felt that he had not quite made his point, for he added: "This is a mutiny that, for the time being, is being carried out through entirely legitimate means — submitting petitions to court, developing position papers, initiating research, rallying public opinion. But it paves the way for radicals to act by illegitimate methods."

Already, Benziman claimed, there were ominous harbingers. One of these was a recent survey of Arabs in Israel that found that 86 per cent of respondents supported the return of refugees to their original homes and 40 per cent favoured the transformation of Israel into a state of all its citizens. He called upon the Jewish majority in Israel to respond to the position papers "in its own terms".

Benziman wrote: "In contrast with the Palestinian-Arab discourse on the history of the conflict, there is a just Israeli version that presents the efforts of the remnants of a small nation to hold on to its homeland and reach, without success, a compromise with its Arab neighbours." The effect of this Jewish position will be to clarify to the Arab minority "the red lines" that delineate the parameters of a possible settlement, which he defines as "the 1967 lines as the borders between a Palestinian national state and the Zionist state of Israel". Benziman adds, "the Jewish majority cannot meet the expectations of the Arab minority to transform Israel into a bi-national state."

Quickly returning to his bête noire, Benziman continues: "the Jewish majority is also finding it increasingly difficult to bear the ideology and conduct of Azmi Bishara, which the Jews see as often slipping into illegitimate zones of support for enemies of the state. This was the case in Bishara’s travels to Lebanon and Syria in recent years, and also during the second Lebanon war." Benziman concludes with a stern warning to Arab MKs: they had better behave within the rules of the game of a democratic state, or else "they will find themselves in the same place as Bishara".

Former Israeli minister of justice and journalist Tommy Lapid holds that the best answer the Israeli government could give Bishara was to change its discriminatory policies towards the Arabs. Writing in Maariv, Lapid deplores the arduous conditions in Arab municipalities (for which, he claims, the Arabs bear a large portion of the responsibility), but the graver injustice against them is that the Jews regard them as second class citizens. Only this inequality between Arabs and Jews could make Bishara and his ideas acceptable to Arab citizens.

Of course, Bishara, himself, is diabolic: "We are dealing with a man who is cleverer and more erudite than the majority of the Arab and Jewish members of the Knesset… He speaks four languages… He seeks to prove himself by espousing extremist positions… Never before has the Knesset seen an Arab deputy who has given himself as much rein to incite hatred against Israel and to support the Palestinian cause, and even saboteurs, as Azmi Bishara." However, Lapid assures his readers, Bishara is not as dangerous as all that. "He is dangerous only when he tells the truth about the discrimination against the Arab minority in Israel." Therefore, "to render his incitement ineffective, we must ensure that Israeli Arabs — especially educated young people — stop feeling as sub- citizens." To which he adds, "if we do not, we will have a homemade Intifada, compared to which the two previous ones will look like child’s play."

By mid-week, the news of MK Bishara’s intention to resign from the Knesset dominated the Hebrew press, all the more so because of the judicial ban on disclosing details of the "landmark case" against him. Reactions in the media and official circles varied from relief at being rid of an "extremist" to calls for tighter security controls over Arabs in Israel. The news also gave an opening to representatives of various Zionist parties to vent their pent up anger and clamour for laws to restrict the freedom of Arab Knesset members and to compel them to declare their loyalty to Israel "as a Jewish and democratic state" as a precondition qualifying their entry into the Israeli parliament.

Newspapers and television networks also gave great play to the various phases of Bishara’s political career, with a heavy focus on his National Democratic Rally’s (NDR) call for a state of all its citizens, which Zionist parties take as "a strategic threat to Israel over the long term". The latter remark was attributed to Israeli Intelligence Chief Yuval Diskin in a closed meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The government’s judicial advisor and party registrar, Mini Mazouz, is expected to deliver a response next week to the Israeli Supreme Court with regard to the appeal filed by an Israeli lawyer to dissolve the NDR on the grounds that its three Knesset members travelled to Syria and Lebanon last autumn and that the party seeks the destruction of Israel. In addition, there were calls from the Knesset floor to nullify Bishara’s Israeli citizenship. The Ministry of Interior is empowered to issue an administrative decree to this effect against any citizen, including Knesset members, since this power overrides parliamentary immunity.

-The writer is a Palestinian journalist.

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