MKs aim to revoke Bishara perks

Right-wingers want to strip Arab MK of pension; court to lift gag order on case.

Bishara 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski)
Bishara 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski)
Azmi Bishara may have tendered his resignation from the Knesset, but as a former MK he will continue to hold many of the privileges of an elected official - a situation that the State of Israel cannot accept, MKs said on Tuesday. MKs from the right-wing parties are discussing ways to revoke some of Bishara's pension privileges, including the more than NIS 72,000-a-year pension that he will receive for the next decade for his years of Knesset service. The MKs, who asked to remain anonymous, said that they plan to file a complaint against Bishara in the Ethics Committee. "How can we accept a situation in which this man dishonors the state and yet we continue to pay him, like freierim [suckers], and give him all his privileges?" said one MK. MKs receives a pension of roughly 20 percent of their yearly salary for each year that they were in office. Bishara's current salary, like all MKs, is NIS 30,000 a month. "There is nothing anyone can do to revoke MKs' pensions; it is a right to them afforded by law," said a Knesset spokesman. "Even a thief, even a man sitting in jail, will receive a pension for time he spent serving in the Knesset." MKs pointed out, however, that there never before has an MK moved to an enemy state and still received funds from Israel. If Bishara were to move to Syria, one of the countries that he is rumored to be considering for residence, the MKs said that there should be a legal way to stop funds from reaching him. Bishara, meanwhile, has promised that he will return to Israel to confront the charges being leveled against him. There is a court-imposed gag order that prohibits the publication of suspicions against him or details of the police investigation. A Qatar-based paper reported Tuesday that Bishara was trying to whip up international support before he returned to Israel. "He will stay abroad to mobilize an Arab and international solidarity campaign to prepare to confront" the Israeli authorities, the secretary general of his National Democratic Assembly party, Awad Abdelfattah, told the Gulf Times. Bishara is currently in Qatar where he met with MK Taleb a-Sanaa (United Arab List). The two met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem and Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawsi Salloukh in Doha, the capital of Qatar. "Be brave and strong. We're all behind you," a-Sanaa told Bishara. Bishara resigned from the Knesset on Sunday. The Balad chairman will be replaced in the Knesset by party member Said Nafaa when the next Knesset session starts on May 9. The Petah Tikva Magistrate's Court is expected to rule Wednesday on whether to lift a gag order on suspicions surrounding Bishara. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the court would convene at midday Wednesday and decide whether to leave the gag order in place or to lift it, and if so, to what extent. Bishara's resignation from the Knesset took effect Tuesday, 48 hours after he submitted it, his party's office said. The gag order bans publication of details of the allegations against Bishara. The media have speculated that he is being investigated on suspicions ranging from corruption to treason. The order has been extended several times and was due to expire early Wednesday, before the latest court hearing was called. Bishara's lawyer, Fouad Sultani, said Bishara and Balad had the right to know what the former MK was accused of and "to respond clear and honestly to every point, to put an end to speculations and rumors." Sultani said he hoped the ban would be lifted entirely, because a partial gag order would "allow security to be selective in what suspicions are reported on." Sultani said Bishara had no plans to return to Israel, because he would be arrested. Bishara has said he is being persecuted for his strident criticism of Israel. On one trip to Syria, he sat next to the leader of Hizbullah at a memorial service for Syria's late President Hafez Assad, a sworn foe of the Jewish state. MKs have repeatedly accused Bishara of taking advantage of the country's freedoms to undermine it. Bishara once summed up the situation of Arabs who found themselves part of Israel when it was formed in 1948 by saying, "We didn't come to Israel," he said. "Israel came to us." "They [Israelis] are looking for a scapegoat for a failed war in Lebanon," Bishara said Tuesday in a phone interview with The Associated Press from Doha. "I am the only Knesset member who never carried a gun and never used violence, and they want to indict me? This is their last resort." Sultani said Bishara and the party had the right to know what he is accused of and "to respond clearly and honestly to every point, to put an end to speculations and rumors." He hoped the ban would be lifted entirely, because a partial gag order would "allow security to be selective in what suspicions are reported on." AP contributed to this report.