MK 'Azmi Bishara (Photo: Knesset)
For the past two days, Israeli news reports have been awash with rumours about the intentions of controversial Knesset member and former Balad party-leader, 'Azmi Bishara. One of the most prolific and prominent Arabs in Israel, Bishara is a life-long opponent of the idea of Israel as a Jewish state. His numerous supporters in the West have praised his "unflinching moral stand [for] non-racial democracy" and like to wax poetic about his alleged commitment to "democratic equal rights." More sober-minded observers tend to to note his repeated visits to Damascus and his public statements of support for the human-rights violating al-Asad dynasty. To me, Bishara embodies all the contradictions of Israeli Arab nationalism. Bisharah is a staunch opponent of Zionism, the political expression of Jewish self-determination, yet he is an ardent champion of Palestinian independence, preferably in all of “historic Palestine”. He is also a member of the Israeli legislature with a respectable profile on the Knesset website and a good salary and government benefits, but he has never missed a chance to publicly voice his support for Israel’s enemies, whether in Beirut, Damascus, or Ramallah.
The biggest question in my mind about Bisharah has always been how such an ideologically committed individual nevertheless deigned to become a Knesset member. The only explanation I could muster for why Bishara would choose to run for office in a state whose existence he opposes was that he believed that the interests of his constituency – Israel’s Arabs – exceeded the importance of his ideological beliefs. The news reports of the past days have caused me to completely re-examine this assumption.
On April 6, 2007, the Israeli-Arab, Nazareth-published newspaper al-Sinnara first reported that Bishara would soon be announcing his intention to resign from political office in ‘Amman, Jordan. The article was quickly picked up by Ha’aretz’s Yoav Stern and re-published in the Hebrew news media. The initial news reports were immediately denied by Jamal Zahalqe, Balad’s second-in-command. Following its initial scoop, al-Sinnara’s website published a second article on April 9, 2007, in which it glowed that a “high-ranking source” had confirmed that Bishara would be tendering his resignation on Tuesday (April 10, 2007). According to al-Sinnara’s latest:
ويذكر ان بشارة كان قد ترك البلاد قبل اسبوعين، وعاد يوم الخميس لعدة ساعات للمشاركة في عرس بالناصرة لكنه عاد الى الخارج صباح الجمعة برفقة عضوي الكنيست جمال زحالقة وواصل طه وهناك قرر ارسال كتاب الاستقالة وتقديمه للكنيست بواسطة احد زملاءه.
هذا وسيعلن بشارة عن استقالته في فضائية "الجزيرة" كما سيصدر حزبه نشرة خاصة حول الموضوع.
It will be recalled that Bishara had left the country [Israel] two weeks ago and returned on Thursday [April 5, 2007] for several hours to participate in a wedding in Nazareth, but that he then returned abroad on Friday morning, accompanied by two Knesset members, Jamal Zahalqe and Wasil Taha. There, he decided to send his resignation letter and to submit it to the Knesset through one of his colleages.
[In addition,] Bishara will announce his resignation on the satellite television station “Al Jazeera” according to a special release published about the issue by his party.
These reports, notwithstanding Zahalqe’s initial denials, leave no doubt about the significance of the events likely to unfold in the coming days. Debka’s rumour-mongers have already jumped to the conclusion that Bishara has "fled" Israel together with his family and does not intend to return. According to Debka, Bishara’s flight is linked to “one of the most serious security-related affairs ever exposed by the Israeli security services, including the Shin Beth.” Debka warns, ominously, that it cannot reveal more at this stage, but goes on to imply that the Israeli security services have exposed a serious plot against the state, and that this is the reason why several Arab rights organizations have stepped up their fight against the Shin Beth in the legal and international arenas.
Even though Debka is notorious for its inaccurate predictions, I do believe that something has been cooking in Balad and that a gag order, imposed by the Israeli police, has probably been in effect. I was also impressed by a reference in Debka to several pieces written in Balad’s mouthpiece, "Fasl al-Maqal" last week. In one of these pieces, Zahalqe apparently called on Bishara to recognize that his main achievements have not been as a parliamentarian in Israel, but rather, on the international stage. Could Zahalqe have been trying to distance his party, Balad, from a man that he knew would soon be "defecting"? Or was this a preventive damage control measure aimed at shoring up Bishara’s "legacy" as an international representative of the Palestinian people and to deflect any damage his "flight" may do to his legacy with the Israeli Arabs?
My guess is that Bishara intends to announce on Tuesday, March 10, 2007, that he has decided to retire from Israeli politics and to sever his links to Israel. Part of me thinks that he may decide to become the ‘Arafat of the Israeli Arabs and to lead them into an Intifada from abroad. On the other hand, Bishara might just announce that he has accepted a lucrative job as a commentator at al-Jazeera, complete with Qatari citizenship. Time will tell.
An article by Yoav Stern and others published today, April 10, 2007, in Ha'aretz basically confirms that there is a publication ban on the Bashara Affair:
"Bashara, who is expected to announce his resignation from the Knesset due to reasons that cannot be published at this time, is presently abroad."
בשארה, הצפוי כנראה להודיע על התפטרותו מהכנסת בנסיבות שלא ניתן כעת לפרסמן, שוהה בחו"ל זה כשבועיים