Bishara's legacy

What if even as the Luftwaffe was blitzing London's Westminster Palace, a British MP was off to Berlin?

azmi bishara 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
azmi bishara 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
What if, on the night of May 10-11, 1941, even as the Luftwaffe was blitzing London's Westminster Palace, a British MP was off in Berlin advising German leaders about how best to confront Winston Churchill? Now fast-forward to another war, another time and another place: the summer of 2006. Hizbullah gunners are bombarding northern Israel from Lebanon; soldiers have been killed, soldiers have been kidnapped. Tens of thousands of Israelis are sweltering in shelters. The country is at war. Knesset Member Azmi Bishara, however, is off in Beirut, where, authorities suspect, he is helping Hizbullah evaluate Jerusalem's political and military strategy. We say "suspect" because Bishara fled Israel before he could be brought to trial. It is thus altogether fitting that the law passed on Sunday by the Knesset - that henceforth bars anyone visiting an enemy state for illegal purposes from running for the Knesset - has been dubbed the "Bishara Law." In a 52-24 vote the legislature declared that anyone who unlawfully visits Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia or Yemen must wait seven years before seeking a seat in parliament. This legislation modifies the Basic Law: The Knesset, which stipulates that "a list of candidates or a candidate can be elected as long as their goals or their actions, literally or interpretively, do not negate the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, [express] incitement to racism, or support [the] armed struggle of an enemy state or a terror organization against the State of Israel." Anyone who now travels to an enemy state with criminal intent, the amendment just passed adds, "will be seen as a supporter of [the] armed struggle [against Israel], unless they prove otherwise," and thus be blocked from running for seven years thereafter. IT IS regrettable, though entirely unsurprising, that Arab Knesset members have unleashed a torrent of invective against the Bishara Law. It is also sad because their stance hammers home just how wide, and deep, is the chasm between the political culture of Israel's majority Jewish population and that of its large Arab minority. It is lamentable, too, because Arab MKs do a disservice to their constituencies by their unremitting, capricious exacerbation of the country's rifts. No one expects Palestinian Israelis - as many Arab citizens now want to be identified - or the representatives they send to the Knesset to champion the Zionist cause. Yet through their all-encompassing devotion to anti-Israel radicalism, rather than to the pragmatic building of legislative coalitions with Zionist parties - which could improve the quality of life in the Arab sector - these MKs are delinquent in their responsibilities to their voters and the state. MK AHMAD TIBI has angrily predicted that the Supreme Court will overturn the Bishara Law as unconstitutional, supposedly because a simple Knesset majority cannot modify a Basic Law. We shall see. MK Muhammad Barakei is more outlandish, complaining that the law imposes "a rule of terror in thought and political opinion." Nonsense. Arab citizens will still be able to visit relatives abroad, attend weddings and funerals and articulate any views they want, barring outright collaboration with the enemy. MK Sa'id Nafa, a Druse who has visited Syria, has already filed a petition with the court to have the Bishara Law overturned on the grounds that it violates the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. Yet no one will be barred from running for the Knesset if, say, they attend a conference on global warming held in Yemen. Arab politicians will still be able to travel to meetings in enemy states - not to support "resistance" against Israel, but in the cause of peace or religious tolerance. We trust the justices will affirm that the law pertains exclusively to individuals who go abroad to meet with the likes of Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar - as Bishara did - and Hassan Nasrallah for the purpose of giving aid and comfort to the enemy; and that it will in no way restrict innocuous freedom of movement. The assurance that from now on - the law does not apply retroactively - candidates will be ineligible for a Knesset seat if they conduct themselves precisely as Azmi Bishara did strikes us as eminently sensible... and regrettably necessary.