Depending on whom you ask, Balad MK Azmi Bishara might appear these days as "public enemy number one" - especially since, so long as the gag order surrounding his case remains in effect, the reasons for his sudden absence remain shrouded in rumor.
He has reportedly flown from Jordan to Spain to attend a conference he had prescheduled before the current rumors of his leaving the country had surfaced.
Bishara's acquaintances, colleagues and friends think it is too soon to declare an end to his political career and believe this affair damages the status of Arabs in Israel.
"It is too early to address the issue, because all the information we have comes from the media, rumors and speculation," Nazareth Mayor Ramiz Jaraisy said Wednesday. Bishara was born in Nazareth, and began his political career there.
"Above all, I am concerned...that this affair legitimizes incitement against the Arab citizens of Israel. This sort of thing is being used by right-wing politicians who keep searching for incidents to justify their extreme stances rather than change their views," Jaraisy said, stressing that he is not a member of Bishara's Balad party.
"I don't think it is right to take advantage of Bishara's distress to score political points. I hope he will be back soon and, as a representative of the public, deal with this issue. This is the right thing [for him] to do," Jaraisy told The Jerusalem Post.
Jafar Farah, director of Mossawa, an advocacy center for Arab citizens, and another acquaintance of Bishara's, said Wednesday that this latest affair hurts Israel's Arab population.
"This is an escalation in the Israeli right wing's fight against the Arab public, and an attempt to denounce this public and its leadership," Farah said.
"Since 1995, there have been more than 30 cases in which nine Arab MKs were investigated, while in only five cases charges were pressed. In all cases, the Arab MKs were acquitted. These incidents lead to violent incitement against the MKs and [cause] the Arab public [to feel] persecuted as a result," said Farah.
Dr. Basel Ghattas, who is related to Bishara and is a member of the Balad faction, said Wednesday that the Balad chairman was the victim of "a kangaroo court."
"He really meant to resign from the Knesset six months ago, but the party members asked him to postpone his decision. He felt he had fully exhausted the Knesset and the Knesset had fully exhausted him, but he had commitments to fulfill before he could resign," Ghattas said.
"I am glad he hasn't resigned yet and I know he will be back to fight those institutions who are trying to set him up," he continued.
"This is political persecution and we are managing it as nothing less than a crisis. This is another way to break an Arab leader and by doing so, tell the Arab public where they stand," said Ghattas.