A little more than two years ago, Jewish organizations throughout the United States organized a fundraising campaign to help members of Israel’s Arab community, which makes up more than one million Israeli citizens out of a total population of seven million. The response was overwhelming, as U.S. Jews rallied to the aid of Israeli Arabs.
Unfortunately, in offering their support, these Americans paid little attention to the actual leadership of Israeli Arabs, which has turned against the state of Israel from within. Until this week, in fact, the Knesset included one member who verbally and openly supports Israel’s annihilation and cheers on terrorist groups like Hezbollah.
This outspokenly anti-Israel activist is Arab parliamentarian Azmi Bishara. Bishara’s history of agitation against his home country is a matter of historical record. During the autumn of 2000, for instance, riots broke out in every Arab community in northern Israel except for one, the Israeli Arab city of Shefaram. Bishara's contribution was to urge Arab youth to continue their rioting, using whatever means necessary.
Shefaram Mayor Ursan Yassin was one Arab leader who rejected Bishara’s incendiary instructions. On the first night of the riots, he stood up to a group of masked men who wanted to desecrate the city’s ancient synagogue. “I told the hooligans that I recognized them, and that if they wanted to continue, they would have to get past me,” Yassin would recall in an interview. Many other Arab Israelis, however, answered Bishara’s call for continued destruction.
Last summer, Bishara stuck again. As Israel retaliated against Hezbollah's relentless provocations, Bishara led delegations of Israeli Arab members of the Knesset to Lebanon to express his full support for the terrorist group -- this at a time when Hezbollah was launching over 4,000 missiles into Israel, an attack that ultimately resulted in the deaths of 52 Israeli civilians. (It is interesting to note that 24 of those killed were Israeli Arabs.) Earlier, in a speech in the Knesset in June of 2000, Bishara had high praise for Hezbollah: “Hezbollah is a courageous national force that has taught Israel a lesson,” he declared. “It became the vanguard of the Arab world with a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of the goal.”
Bishara’s betrayal during last summer’s war prompted the Israeli government to launch an investigation of Bishara for allegations of treason. On Thursday, Bishara announced that he would resign from his Knesset post following what he branded "persecution" against him. He asked during an interview with reporters: "Is it possible that a parliament member is subjected to such persecution?"
Bishara represents a unique phenomenon. There isn't another country in the world where members of Parliament openly support terrorist organizations whose purpose is to destroy that very same country those parliamentarians are in office to represent. Even Britain’s George Galloway, who at times praises radical Islamic organizations, looks like a moderate next to Israeli fifth columnists like Bishara. Whatever else may be said about him, Galloway at least does not support the destruction of Britain.
What makes Bishara’s case even more unusual is that he should be, by law, ineligible to hold office in Israel: It is illegal for any Knesset member to reject the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, either explicitly or implicitly. It is illegal, too, to support a terrorist organization. Yet Bishara makes no secret of his rejection of Israel. "I am not opposed to all of Israel becoming Palestine. The Israelis immigrated to us, not we to them,” he informed an Austrian weekly in October of 2000. More recently, in December of 2005, Bishara proclaimed: "Israel is the greatest robbery of the twentieth century. Give us back Palestine and take your democracy. We, the Arabs, aren't interested.”
In this context, it should be unsurprising that in 1999 and 2003 Bishara was disqualified by the Knesset's Central Elections Committee from seeking office. However, Israel’s benevolent High Court of Justice decided to interpret the law in a way that somehow allowed Bishara to run for office. In response, a Likud member of Knesset, Gilad Erdan, has announced plans to initiate a bill that would prevent any member of the Knesset in the future from serving in the legislature as long as he does not recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. (Of Bishara, Erdan quips: “It is now clear why Bishara lost his wits when I proposed that he serve in the Syrian parliament.”) Erdan's bill would obligate all Arab members of the Knesset to state, once and for all, that they recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state or surrender the right to hold political office.
Some have gone further. Another member of the Knesset, National Religious Party Chairman Zvulun Orlev, submitted a bill yesterday that bars a person who visits an enemy country from running for a seat in the Knesset. In conjunction, he also intends to promote a bill stating that every Knesset member will be required to swear allegiance to the state of Israel.
Few in Israeli politics are sad to see the back of Bishara. Israeli opposition chairman Binyamin Netanyahu said during a recent visit to northern Israel: “Bishara has contributed greatly to destabilizing relations between Arabs and Jews, and if he has decided to leave, it will only benefit us all.” That does not solve all of Israel’s problems, however. Former Israel education minister Limor Livnat, who accompanied Netanyahu, added that Israel must still grapple with its restive Arab population: “They received the protection of democracy, and are now claiming to be persecuted. There are Arab [parliamentarians] who abuse their immunity and endanger the state,” she said. “We will have to ask ourselves many questions.”
The Olmert administration, which includes Israel’s first Arab member of the government, Rayed Majadle, has remained silent on the Bishara affair. This reporter asked Israeli government minister Majadle to comment on the phenomenon of Israeli Arabs turning on their fellow citizens. Majadle responded by saying that he does not believe that any Israeli Arab leader would turn his back on the state of Israel. He would not comment on the Bishara affair, however.
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