(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The exact details of what former MK Azmi Bishara is actually alleged to have done are still prohibited from publication, so it's hard to assess at this point what real damage, if any, the information he's supposed to have passed on to Hizbullah caused the IDF during the Second Lebanon War.
But since only a few select Knesset members are privy to restricted information, and neither Bishara nor his Arab MK colleagues are on that list, he probably wasn't handing over the crown jewels. So far, he has succeeded mainly in damaging his own cause.
Bishara hoped that his showdown with the Israeli justice system would turn him into an international martyr for Palestine. He might have bolstered his already high profile on the Arab satellite channels, but his "escape" has scarcely attracted more than fleeting attention from the Western press. "Let's face it," said a foreign journalist based in Jerusalem, "Nelson Mandela he's not."
Even within his own constituency, the responses to Bishara's actions have been subdued. Arab MKs dutifully lined up to praise him and accuse the government and security services of systematic persecution, as did most of the local Arabic-language media (though not all of it). But there was a distinct lack of large-scale demonstrations or any visible anger on the streets.
Though few were willing to admit it publicly, there was both quiet anger and derision towards Bishara. After allegedly crossing all the red lines and giving ammunition to the Right for another decade, Bishara preferred to take the
easy way out instead of bravely stating his case in court.
Gradually the realization is sinking in that Bishara will not be coming back for the next few years. As painful as it might be to leave his home in Haifa, doing jail time would be much more painful, and a fat, tax-free salary from Al-Jazeera will soothe any homesickness he might feel in his comfortable exile in Qatar.
But the bottom line is that, while Bishara might now become one of the stars of the satellite channel as senior commentator and analyst, he almost certainly has lost his quest to become the leader and ideologue of Israel's Arab minority. There is scant regard in the community for those who forsake the battle to cling to Palestine. If he ever attempts to return and reenter politics, there will always be those quick to remind him of his failure to face the music.
Bishara has significantly strengthened the position of those who claim that Israeli democracy, in order to defend itself, must not allow dangerous elements to participate in elections. His colleagues aren't going to thank him for leaving them to pick up the pieces.
The Arab leadership has lately renewed its campaign for changing the state's ethos into one that is not centered around a Jewish identity. Bishara was one of the main leaders of this campaign. But now he has become a different kind of example to the young generation.
When the going gets tough and sticking by your actions might land you in jail, than a cushy job abroad beats suffering for Palestine.