Suckered by Bishara

Intimidating abuse by Arab MKs doesn’t serve their constituents but only radicalizes them, to the detriment of all of us.

November 13, 2010 22:36
3 minute read.
Azmi Bishara

Bishara 58. (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.

Although the lawmakers named no names, the draft – already approved last July by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation – has come to be known as the “Bishara Law.”

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 payroll.

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 Jerusalem.”

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.

By the 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.

THIS MAY seem problematic. A priori there’s something unpalatable in a law seen to target a given individual.

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.

As things stand, it is grotesquely implausible to expect the state, and by extension its taxpaying population, to underwrite this inflammatory fugitive.

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.

THERE IS 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.”

Deplorably, such 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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