Although a cloud of mystery hangs over the current affairs of Balad MK Azmi Bishara, the Israeli Arab leadership is mounting a concerted and coordinated campaign to depict him as a victim of government persecution. "There is a tendentious and very complex effort to harm Azmi Bishara and the entire Arab leadership," Abed Anabtawi, secretary of the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. "The issue is based on various and contradictory rumors. It is all slander."
Bishara reportedly flies from Jordan to Spain
Analysis: From 'Philosopher' to 'Provocateur'
Yael Lerer, a member of Bishara's party, recalled that the government had made grave accusations against Tali Fahima, including a charge of aiding the enemy in wartime, an offense carrying a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. In the end, Lerer said, the sides had reached a plea bargain agreement in which the serious charges were dropped and she served two years in prison.
The same was true regarding Raed Saleh, the leader of the northern branch of the Islamic movement, said Lerer. Saleh was arrested in May 2003 and originally charged with assisting terrorism and maintaining contacts with a foreign agent. In the end, he reached a plea bargain agreement with the state prosecution and served two years and two months in jail for receiving donations from outlawed Islamic foundations.
A few days ago, Balad's communications task force issued a four-page document in which it charged that "the political persecution of and incitement against the Arab citizens and their elected representatives has reached new heights in recent days. The state's apparatus are all taking part in this and do not hesitate to use grossly undemocratic means, brutal threats, false accusations and false criminal allegations."
The document went on to discuss the alleged incitement by Israeli politicians and the media against Balad during the Second Lebanese War for opposing the fighting. It also referred to a controversy that erupted last month over a report that Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin described the Israeli Arabs as a "strategic threat" in a conversation with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
In response to a request for clarification of the comment by an Israeli Arab weekly linked to Balad, a Shin Bet official stated that as part of its fight against subversion, the Shin Bet was responsible for preventing action by those seeking to undermine the character of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state even when they used legal means.
The statement then went on to describe the failed effort of the Central Election Committee to prohibit Balad from running in the 2003 national elections and the failed attempt by the state prosecution to try Bishara on charges of support for a terrorist organization (Hizbullah) in 2001. The High Court ruled that Bishara could not be prosecuted for making the speeches in the context of his parliamentary immunity.
Currently, Bishara is again under police investigation for having visited Lebanon in December 2005 without permission from the Interior Ministry.