azmi bishara talks 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
After years of effort by two consecutive Knessets, the House Committee voted Monday morning to strip former Balad MK Azmi Bishara of his Knesset pension.
The last committee vote on the subject – which came only weeks after the Knesset approved, in its final reading, the law enabling the House Committee to strip pensions – paved the way for a final vote in the plenum that would seal the fate of Bishara’s pension. With support for the penalty crossing coalition and opposition lines, the plenum is likely to vote in favor of the committee decision in a vote that will be held in the coming two weeks.
The Monday vote was procedural, in accordance with the legislation approved by the Knesset exactly one month ago. That law empowers the House Committee to revoke the salary, pension payments, or additional benefits payments of any MK who fails to report for questioning when summoned by the police.
After the bill passed, ten or more MKs were required to petition the attorney-general, claiming that the MK in question is suspected of committing an offense that could result in ten or more years’ imprisonment, that the offense was carried out while serving in the Knesset, and that the MK had failed to report to legal proceedings including investigation, trial or sentencing. In accordance with the procedure set out in the new legislation, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein then notified the government of the petition.
Bishara was technically invited to come and offer testimony in his defense during or prior to Monday’s House Committee session, but the former lawmaker has not returned to Israel since fleeing the country in 2007. At the time, Bishara was being questioned by police under suspicion that he aided Israel’s enemies during the Second Lebanon War.
“This is the first time that the House Committee has been asked to utilize its authority to deny payments to a former MK,” said committee chairman Yariv Levin (Likud). “This law has been invoked as a last resort, because an elected official fled the country while using the privileges granted him, in a manner unparallelled anywhere in the world.”
Levin told committee members that notices were sent both to Bishara himself as well as to the Balad Party Knesset faction.
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“The goal of the sanctions is not penal, but rather to get Bishara to come to Israel and explain his actions,” Levin added, noting that if Bishara returns to Israel and faces his investigators, he can have his pension returned. Attorney Raz Nizri, senior aide to Weinstein, briefed the committee on the current status of Bishara’s file. Nizri said that at the time, Bishara’s trip overseas had been planned in advance and that prosecutors had not yet gathered enough evidence to get an order forbidding the former MK from leaving Israel.
Nizri listed the current list of suspicions against Bishara, which
included maintaining relations with a Lebanese journalist who was
actually a close crony of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and was
himself an intelligence officer for the terror group. Bishara, Nizri
said, transferred information to Nasrallah and received money in return.
During the 2006 war, Bishara allegedly transferred information on how to
increase attacks against Israel and how to widen the range of missiles
south of Haifa, as well as tactical and strategic information on Israeli
public sentiment and information on IDF activities that had been
forbidden from any publication by the censor.
The committee voted unanimously to recommend that the plenum approve the removal of Bishara’s pension.
“It is not with pride, but with our heads held high that we can put an
end to this situation in which treason becomes a prosperous industry,”
concluded Levin, who proposed that Bishara be stripped of all of his
benefits, including NIS 7,200 per month in pension funds, free transit
on public transportation, receipt of a daily newspaper and coverage of
telephone bills – a proposal accepted by the committee.
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