(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Balad MK Azmi Bishara confirmed Thursday he plans to resign from the Knesset, telling a Nazareth-based newspaper he is being persecuted.
Bishara's remarks to Hadith A-Nas represented the first time he has directly responded to media reports about his intention to quit.
Bishara's Balad party drafted top lawyers from around the world who will come to Israel on Sunday for an appeal to the High Court of Justice to force the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to rescind a gag order surrounding the details of an investigation against Bishara, Balad MK Wassel Taha said on Thursday.
Several media outlets are set to join the appeal. Balad MKs met with the Hadash and United Arab Lists factions on Thursday to obtain their support as well.
Bishara left Israel two weeks ago to attend meetings and to promote his book and he has remained abroad, except for a brief return to the country last week to attend a wedding, according to the Nazareth-based A-Sinara newspaper. The paper also reported that Bishara was in Jordan on Sunday.
"Azmi Bishara has many reasons for not returning to Israel yet," Taha said. "He still has many events on his schedule. But he will definitely not return until the gag order is rescinded."
The Shin Bet-imposed gag order also prevents the press from reporting that there is a gag order but the Hebrew press reported all day Thursday that such a gag order exists.
"I will not be a slave to the people who are trying to stifle me, Bishara said in an interview to Kul al-Arab newspaper.
In an interview to Army Radio, Balad MK Jamal Zahalka denied reports that Bishara was told to leave Jordan, and said Bishara's media silence - Bishara is usually one of the more outspoken members of Knesset - was imposed on him by the gag order.
"Believe me, when the gag order is removed, he will not stop talking," Zahalka said.
Zahalka said that the fact that Bishara's wife and children returned to Israel overnight Wednesday proved that Bishara was not planning to flee the country.
Zahalka added that Bishara would "return to Israel following the international tour he scheduled for himself." In Bahrain, Bishara is set to attend a rally of a "national" nature.
While in Jordan, Bishara reportedly met with Foreign Minister Abdallah Hatib and deputy chairman of the upper house of the Jordanian parliament, Taher Eel-Masri, who is considered a prominent leader of Jordan's Palestinian community.
According to the Jordanian news agency Amon, Bishara raised in his meeting with Hatib ideas that could change the nature of relations between Israel and its Arab population.
Amon also reported that Bishara underwent medical tests after feeling pain in his kidneys.