(photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski)
Arab-Israeli MK Azmi Bishara of Balad - a nonstop source of provocative antics and brazen agitation - has seemingly pulled off his most riveting exploit to date by keeping this country's entire body-politic and general public on tenterhooks, awaiting any hint of his future plans. Will he return from his current stay in Jordan, or will he abscond? The mystery is further deepened by leaked reports - despite a thick veil of official secrecy - of possibly severe charges in the offing against him for "endangering Israel's security."
No matter how this installment of the Bishara saga is eventually resolved, the confrontational parliamentarian has managed to grab front-page headlines as never before. Not that he has ever shied from controversy. Bishara had traveled to enemy states like Syria and Lebanon on a number of occasions, and - thumbing his nose at the laws of the country in whose parliament he serves and whose taxpayers foot his bills - Bishara proceeded to unabashedly identify with Israel's worst enemies, whom he egged on to confront Israel.
Last September, in Damascus, he "warned" Syria's regime that "Israel might launch a preliminary offensive," in an attempt "to overcome internal crisis and restore deterrence."
Along with fellow Balad MKs Wassel Taha and Jamal Zahalka, Bishara visited Lebanon and lauded Hizbullah's rocketing of Israel, for "having lifted the Arab people's spirits." Pro-forma, the attorney-general subsequently initiated criminal investigations against all three.
This week, prior to speculation that he may resign, Bishara urged Hamas "not to make any concessions whatever to Israel" and "not to rule out the likelihood of a regional war" in which Syria and Iran would come to their aid against Israel.
Bishara never equivocated about his loyalties, which invariably lay with Israel's foes. After the IDF's retreat from Lebanon in 2000, he crowed at an Umm el-Fahm rally: "Hizbullah won and for the first time since 1967 we taste victory. Hizbullah is justly proud of its achievement in humiliating Israel."
He later repeated the same sentiments in Damascus, leading the Knesset to lift his parliamentary immunity, facilitating an indictment for supporting terrorist organizations. The Supreme Court, however, let Bishara off the legal hook. Likewise, in 2003, the Court overturned a Central Election Committee decision to disqualify Balad from the Knesset race.
Despite such tolerance, Bishara hectored in Beirut: "We don't want your [Israel's] democracy. Give us Palestine."
It's hard to imagine any democracy which would abide similar outright disloyalty, least of all a country at war and facing such unparalleled existential threats as Israel.
Even Britain's MP George Galloway's apologetics for Islamic terrorism haven't reached the point of advocating the UK's destruction. Israel, incomparably more vulnerable than any western democracy, has thus far endured what no other society would stand for.
The end - one way or the other - of Bishara's galling misuse of parliamentary immunity is long overdue. This isn't only in the interest of the exasperatingly tested broadmindedness of Israel's Jews. It's exceedingly more so in the interest of Israeli Arabs, the primary victims of Bishara's in-your-face anti-Israel impudence.
Each of his tirades only further serves to stigmatize Israel's Arab citizens as fifth columnists. Bishara's support for Hizbullah during and after last summer's war exacerbated such suspicions by the Jewish majority. To be sure, Bishara isn't alone, as amply evinced by position papers and proposed "constitutions," composed by a gamut of Israeli-Arab organizations, essentially demanding that Israel cease existing as a Jewish state.
Nevertheless, Bishara is a potent symbol of a radicalizing politician, who deliberately fans the flames, whips up discord and jeopardizes Israel's fragile intercommunal equilibrium. His radicalized electorate is in turn likely to vote for ever-more extreme representatives, thereby triggering a truly vicious cycle.
The sooner this cycle is broken, the better Israeli Arabs would fare. The sooner they recognize that cynical politicians unconscionably make political capital at their expense, while doing nothing to improve their lot, the faster Israeli Arabs will disprove growing perceptions of them as strategic risks from within.