Balad Chairman MK Azmi Bishara has left Egypt, the London-based Ashark al-Awsat newspaper claimed Monday morning. However, the whereabouts of the Arab-Israeli MK are unknown, Israel Radio reported.
MKs 'relieved' by Bishara's resignation
On Sunday, Bishara, who left Israel in the middle of a police investigation against him, submitted his resignation from the Knesset via the Israeli Embassy in Egypt.
"I won't stop my political activities and will always remain in contact," Bishara told the Al-Jazeera TV network following his resignation.
"Since the last elections, I have had an urge to resign and devote more time to contemplative and literary writing... I always believed I was in the Knesset out of duty, and not as a profession."
Bishara said that he had decided to submit the resignation because he saw that right-wing MKs were preparing to "hold a celebration" over removing his immunity and other Knesset privileges.
He also said that he had planned to wait until returning to Israel to submit his resignation, but hastened to do so in Cairo because the issue was being "spun into an anti-Arab Israeli campaign."
Israeli Ambassador to Egypt Shalom Cohen and his deputy, who were present when Bishara submitted the letter, confirmed that he had resigned.
Hours after Bishara submitted his resignation, the Justice Ministry banned all entry to his Knesset office.
Bishara, a fiery nationalist Arab lawmaker, left the country earlier this month after media speculation that the police investigation against him could lead to charges ranging from treason to corruption.
A court-imposed gag order prohibits publication of suspicions against Bishara or details of the police investigations into the allegations.
The Petah Tikva District Court had planned to lift part of the gag order on Sunday, but extended it following a request by the Balad Party that the court remove the gag order on the entire case at once to prevent the police from "publishing a selective and distorted version, while Balad is prohibited from disclosing details."
The party reiterated its claim that the investigation was aimed at politically destroying Bishara through false accusations in order to silence him.
It was unclear Sunday whether Bishara planned to return to Israel. Police officials said it was possible that Bishara would be arrested upon landing in the country.
"I will no doubt return, but I will choose the timing of my return by myself," Bishara said.
"This depends on many factors, including consultations with my friends in Israel and in the Arab world."
The previous day, however, Bishara was quoted as telling friends in Egypt that he was considering remaining abroad because he feared a long jail sentence and damage to his public image if he were to return to Israel.
Bishara reportedly said that he understood that the criminal proceedings against him would take at least three years and, as such, preferred not to return to Israel.
According to several people who attended the meeting with Bishara at the Egyptian Press Syndicate, the MK said he was being investigated in Israel on accusations that include "providing an enemy with information at a time of war, visiting an enemy country and bringing money illegally into the State of Israel."
"I will not venture going back while these threats still stand," Bishara was quoted as saying by the intellectuals meeting with him.
They also said that Bishara claimed that the "accusations are politically motivated and aim at ending his political activities," but had ruled out the possibility of resigning from the Knesset.
Bishara declined to talk to reporters on the record because no official charges have been raised yet.
Bishara's resignation will come into effect on Tuesday and he will be replaced in the Knesset by attorney Said Nafa, who briefly spent time in jail for refusing to serve in the IDF.
MKs from across the political spectrum responded harshly to Bishara's resignation, prompting Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik to issue a statement calling on MKs to refrain from making racist comments.
"This is an isolated case. I call on all Knesset members to refrain from comments that may be insulting to civil servants or different sectors, notably Israeli Arabs, most of whom are law-abiding and loyal citizens," she stated.
In his letter of resignation to Itzik, Bishara wrote that he had done his best to "represent the universal values in which I believe, such as equality and democracy, human rights and just peace between the peoples," during his time in the Knesset.
"I also acted to loyally represent all citizens, in particular the Arab citizens," he said.
The 50-year-old lawmaker has angered many in the past by openly identifying with Syria and with Lebanon's Hizbullah.
Bishara served in the Knesset for 11 years and founded the Balad Party in 1995.
He was the first Arab Israeli to run for prime minister in the 1999 elections.