(photo credit: Courtesy)
Amid considerable pandemonium – even by the standards of our rarely calm Knesset
– the House Committee last week approved a preliminary bill aimed at denying
publicly funded allowances to any serving or former MK who fails to honor police
or court summonses or who dodges duly imposed penalties. The offenses involved
need be serious enough to warrant at least a five-year sentence. The bill must
pass through two plenum readings before it becomes law.
lawmakers named no names, the draft – already approved last July by the
Ministerial Committee on Legislation – has come to be known as the “Bishara
Fugitive from justice ex-MK Azmi Bishara (Balad) has collected over
NIS 512,000 in pension and “adjustment” grants since he fled the country in 2007
to elude interrogation on charges that he actively abetted Hizbullah during the
Second Lebanon War – that he passed information to it and was on its
While awarded a monthly NIS 7,248 pension at Israeli taxpayers’
expense, Bishara has spent the past few years heaping scathing scorn on Israel
and recommending armed struggle against it. In a recent Al Jazeera op-ed, he
advocated the “dismantling of Zionism,” replacing Israel with “a democratic Arab
state” and not budging on the “Right of Return” and “the Arabness of
The unavoidable question for Israelis is whether they ought
to continue footing Bishara’s bills. The Knesset and the courts have been
grappling with this conundrum ever since Bishara went on the lam.
yardstick of plain common sense, continuing to fund Bishara appears like the
ultimate imbecility. But popular perceptions of justice and painstakingly
constructed legal frameworks don’t necessarily mesh. Hence the courts foiled all
attempts hitherto to cease subsidizing Bishara. Two years ago, the Supreme Court
required the state to keep paying him because the law does not authorize
depriving former MKs of their pensions.
The current bill is aimed at
plugging the loophole.
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THIS MAY seem problematic. A priori there’s
something unpalatable in a law seen to target a given
Additionally it can be argued that wage-rights, earned by an
individual in the past, ought not to be subject to subsequent punitive measures.
Finally, the fact is that Bishara has not actually been convicted of anything;
he can, therefore, plead the presumption of innocence.
In an ideal world,
we would all prefer to avoid having to promulgate this kind of legislation. The
trouble is that Bishara brazenly and provocatively helps makes this so much less
than an ideal world.
Bishara, his attorneys, and supporters resort to
human rights terminology in his defense, while conveniently overlooking the fact
that Bishara was accused of treason during wartime and fled as soon as
confronted with some of the evidence amassed against him. He himself, therefore,
undermined the presumption of innocence. Nothing, furthermore, prevents him now
from returning and standing trial to resolve the matter definitively.
things stand, it is grotesquely implausible to expect the state, and by
extension its taxpaying population, to underwrite this inflammatory
Allowing Bishara to exploit the current legal loopholes – and
make ourselves compulsively and intentionally oblivious to the nature of the
transgressions Bishara is accused of – we become complicit in his effort to play
us for suckers. There is a point where such behavior descends into inexcusable,
self-harming gullibility, and with Bishara we have reached it.
another highly perturbing aspect to the debate. All Arab MKs who participated in
the Knesset committee deliberations solidly sided with Bishara and boycotted the
final vote. Moreover, they injected extremism into the debate. Jamal Zahalka of
Bishara’s Balad list went so far as to determine that committee chairman Yariv
Levin is “worthy of death,” among other compliments like “fascist,” “racist,”
“insane,” bloodstained” and “a moral midget.”
outrageously unparliamentary invective garners votes aplenty in the Arab sector.
It also underscores the vulnerability of our sovereignty and democracy.
Intimidating abuse by Arab MKs doesn’t serve their constituents but only
radicalizes them, to the detriment of all of us.
That, of course, may be
precisely what Bishara and his cohorts desire. If anything, this behooves our
democracy to defends itself against those who would exploit its tolerance in
order to destroy it.
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