Petah Tikva Magistrate's Court on Sunday confirmed what almost everyone already knows: that Balad MK Azmi Bishara is under investigation by police, but declined to shed light on the allegations against him. "Bishara is indeed being investigated regarding various suspicions which he knows about," wrote Judge Lia Lev-On. "We are in a stage of the investigation which does not permit disclosure, especially given that the suspect did not appear before me and did not ask for anything.
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"The rumors and the publication of details in the foreign press and in a language which only part of the population understands cannot serve as a reason to justify disproportionate damage to the investigation and the rights of the suspects, all the more so since we are talking about an extremely sensitive matter."
Lev-On added that Bishara's investigation was secret until a month ago and was being carried out carefully and under the supervision of Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz.
Petitions calling on the court to lift the gag order on disclosure of the details of the investigation were filed by Bishara's party as well as Haaretz and Yediot Aharonot.
Until the ruling, journalists were prohibited from reporting that police were investigating Bishara, though the fact appeared in the foreign, and even the local, media.
Bishara complained about the court's decision in an interview with the Arabic Al-Jazeera network, his first television interview since the scandal began.
"I heard what I have been accused of, I was surprised and I have given my answers," Bishara said. "This entire story was planned against me." Asked whether he would resign from the Knesset, he said he reached a point where he had already accomplished all he could in 11 years of parliamentary work. He said he was still deciding when and how to quit.
Balad officials accused the Shin-Bet and the police of pressuring the court.
"We have nothing to hide," said Balad MK Jamal Zahalka, who was one of the petitioners in the case. "It's the police that are trying to use tactics of political persecution against Azmi Bishara, the Balad Party and the entire Arab public. We want the entire story exposed, because it would allow us to respond to attacks against us and prevent the police from leaking false reports."
Balad MK Wasal Taha said that Balad's lawyer would decide soon whether to appeal the magistrate's court decision to the High Court of Justice. He said Balad was leaning against it, because the gag order is set to end on April 23.
Bishara vowed last week that he would not return to Israel until the gag order was lifted. But he was not planning on returning soon in any case because he still has various commitments to lecture and attend events in various countries.
"We won't give up the fight against the gag order until it is finally removed and all the facts are revealed," Taha said. "Azmi doesn't work for the Israeli establishment or the press. We don't intend to play the game by their rules."
Former minister and current Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center law school head Amnon Rubinstein criticized the court decision and questioned whether the gag order was legal.