Column One: Bishara and the Old Guard

The former Arab-Israeli MK has only been able to act as he has because Israel has allowed him to.

glick long hair 88 (photo credit: )
glick long hair 88
(photo credit: )
Since the details of former MK Azmi Bishara's rap sheet for treason are still secret, it is impossible to assess how his actions on behalf of Hizbullah during last summer's war affected Israel's campaign against Iran's proxy army in Lebanon. But even without knowing the specifics of Bishara's crimes, two notable aspects of his case stand out. First, the very decision of Israel's investigatory arms to open a probe against Bishara for acts of treason is a welcome development. It marks a clear departure from their past treatment of Bishara and other Arab parliamentarians who have openly worked on behalf of Israel's enemies in recent years. Bishara has acted as an overt Syrian and Hizbullah flunky ever since he was first elected to the Knesset in 1996. In contravention of Israeli law, which bars unauthorized travel to enemy states, in 1997 he traveled to Syria and met with then-vice president Abdel Halim Khadam. In 1998 he returned to Syria to meet with then-foreign minister Farouk a-Shara. Throughout the 1990s he organized illegal visits for Israeli Arabs to Syria. Bishara's high profile visit to Syria and Lebanon last September along with his Knesset colleagues Jamal Zahalka and Wasal Taha, when he praised Hizbullah and Syria, was but an escalation of his actions on behalf of Hizbullah and Syria in the wake of the IDF's withdrawal from south Lebanon in May 2000. After that withdrawal, Bishara praised Hizbullah at a conference of Israeli Arabs in Umm el-Fahm, saying, "Hizbullah is entitled to take pride in its achievement in humiliating Israel." He repeated the statement in 2001 during another illicit visit to Syria. There he praised Iran's proxy army in Lebanon while standing next to Hizbullah commander Hassan Nasrallah at a memorial ceremony for Hafez Assad. Bishara's work on behalf of Syria and Hizbullah was but one aspect of his treasonous behavior. He has also championed the unification of Israeli Arabs with the Palestinians in their war against Israel. According to the Orr Commission, Bishara played a central role in inciting the Israeli Arab riots of October 2000. Although all of these acts reeked of treason, Israel's legal and security establishment demurred from addressing them. Rather than investigate him for treason, he was probed for incitement or supporting terrorist organizations or visiting enemy states without permission. Due to his political prominence, time after time, he was given a pass. And Bishara's was not a unique case. Since 1994, MK Ahmed Tibi has openly acted as an agent of the Fatah terror organization. Last month MKs Muhammad Barakei and Ibrahim Sarsour participated in a conference in Ramallah where they called on the Palestinians to conquer Jerusalem. No criminal probes have been initiated against any of these men. Is there reason to hope that Bishara's investigation signals a new willingness on the part of the legal and political establishment to put an end to the culture of treason that has come to dominate Israeli Arab society? Unfortunately, the answer to this question can be inferred from the second notable aspect of the Bishara case, namely, that he has fled the country. The law on treason stipulates that members of Knesset suspected of being traitors do not enjoy parliamentary immunity from investigation or prosecution. The police and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) could have arrested Bishara for the duration of the probe against him. Yet not only did they not place him under arrest, they allowed him to leave the country. Some have attributed the authorities' decision to permit Bishara to leave to a bad judgment call. But this view a misses the mark. It is far more likely that the decision to allow him to flee justice stemmed from institutional weakness. To date, attempts by the Knesset, the police and the Shin Bet to enforce the laws of the state against Arab politicians and radical leftists who act against the state have been stymied by the Israeli establishment. That establishment is comprised of the academic and cultural elites who embrace them and the heads of the state prosecution, the Supreme Court justices and Israel's political leadership who protect them. In 1999 and 2003, the Supreme Court overturned decisions of the Central Elections Commission to bar Bishara from running for Knesset. Haaretz provided him with an open forum to air his anti-Zionist rantings. Despite his East German university pedigree, Hebrew University's Van Leer Institute gave Dr. Bishara academic legitimacy. Faced with this state of affairs, the police, the Shin Bet and the Israeli people as a whole had no reason to believe that Bishara would be indicted upon the completion of his investigation. They had no reason to believe that if he were indicted he would be convicted. And they had no reason to believe that if convicted, he would remain in prison rather than released by presidential pardon in the framework of a deal with Hamas, Fatah or Hizbullah. So it is reasonable to assume that the investigatory authorities preferred allowing Bishara to become an announcer on Al-Jazeera to having him make a mockery of the rule of law in Israel. Were Bishara to be indicted and acquitted, far from deterring others from following his example, the entire affair would have encouraged Israeli Arabs to embrace him as a role model. AND HERE lies the heart of the problem. Bishara and his associates have only been able to act as they have because the Israeli establishment has allowed them to do so. And the Israeli establishment has allowed them to do so because since the inauguration of the Oslo peace process with the PLO in 1993, that establishment has been corrupted and dominated by anti-Zionists. Since Deputy Premier Shimon Peres was the father of the Oslo process, it can come as no surprise that he has been the central engine behind the corruption of the establishment. Today, Peres openly mocks the rule of law by basing his campaign for the presidency on his promise to pardon Marwan Barghouti, the imprisoned Fatah commander and convicted mass murderer. After inaugurating the Oslo process, then-foreign minister Peres worked steadily to undercut the Zionist foundations of the state bureaucracy. The most obvious example of this was his decision to close the Foreign Ministry's public diplomacy department. That department had been responsible for making Israel's case to the world based on Jewish history, the history of the Zionist movement, and the history of the Arab world's war against the Jews in the Land of Israel. For Peres, ensuring public support for his embrace of the PLO - a terrorist organization founded in 1964 to destroy Israel and to nullify the Jewish people's right to self-determination in its homeland - necessitated a rejection of history. Still today, Peres insists that history must be rejected. Just two weeks ago he said, "If it were up to me, I would cancel all history studies." Under the thrall of Oslo and the control of anti-Zionist professors, the Education Ministry quickly began toeing the line. Now led by Yuli Tamir, one of the founders of Peace Now, the ministry last month announced that in accordance with her educational vision, school children will learn fewer facts, since there is no real historic truth. As Prof. Anat Zohar, the head of the ministry's pedagogical secretariat put it, "Until now, classrooms didn't deal with developing thought, only with the transfer of knowledge. Today, with the expected change, the learner will become active. The knowledge will be built in terms of context." So since everything is now contextual, there can be no value distinction between the a-historical, false Palestinian narrative and Jewish history. Wednesday, Ma'ariv's columnist Ben Dror Yemini published a front page jeremiad entitled "From independence to suicide." Yemini reported that three taxpayer-funded bodies - the Rabinovich Fund, the Jerusalem Cinematheque, and Channel 8 - have hired the anti-Israeli and arguably anti-Semitic former Israeli filmmaker Eyal Sivan to make the official movie marking Israel's 60th birthday next year. Yemini asserted, "Anti-Zionists, who make up perhaps a half a percent of the public, control 70% of the cultural institutions in Israel." Yemini ended his dirge with an impassioned plea to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to end the disgrace and cancel the deal. "Mr. Prime Minister," he wrote, "You have the opportunity to act as a Zionist and a nationalist, to prevent this enormous travesty. Do not let this opportunity pass." But what Yemini failed to note is that Olmert is part of the problem. The corruption scandals that engulf Olmert and his colleagues in Kadima are the fuel that drives the anti-Zionist takeover of the national establishment. It is this corruption-driven takeover that caused the Shin Bet and the police to prefer to see Bishara escape justice by leaving the country than be tried in an Israeli courtroom for crimes against the state. It is this takeover that empowers people like Bishara to work toward the collapse of the state without fear. BUT FOR all this, there is reason, great reason, for hope in this country. This hope was clearly evident on Sunday when hundreds of young people from all walks of society came together at the Kedumim cemetery to pay their final respects for Prof. Yosef Ben-Shlomo. Ben-Shlomo, who died at 77 after a prolonged bout with cancer, is widely considered to have been the greatest teacher and scholar of his generation. Due to his staunch loyalty to Jewish and Zionist values, Ben-Shlomo - who headed Tel Aviv University's Jewish Philosophy Department until he was coldly encouraged to retire eight years ago - was isolated and ignored by his colleagues in Israeli academia. Upon retirement, he turned down an offer to teach at Harvard and opted to become the chief pedagogue of the secular pre-army leadership training academies that his former students were establishing. At the onset of the Oslo process 14 years ago Ben-Shlomo challenged Israeli society to prove that Zionism is not a passing fad. He took up his own challenge by becoming the life force behind the academies that swiftly began filling the void left by the school system. In eight short years these schools have inculcated thousands of Israeli youngsters with Jewish, Zionist and humanist values. Although the funeral was a sad occasion, the message that emanated from it was a mighty one. The hundreds of officers, soldiers and students present made clear that Israel's establishment is not Israel. The nation is not corrupt, and has not turned its back on its history. Far from the leering eyes of the old guard, the citizens of Israel are building a new guard, based on our true Jewish and Zionist values. So in spite of the establishment's corruption so brutally exposed by the Bishara affair, there is every reason to believe that it, rather than Zionism, is a passing fad.