Enforce the law

All holders of special-issue passports need to obtain ministerial approval for journeys to enemy states.

azmi bishara (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
azmi bishara
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz has acceded to the interior minister's request and announced that a trio of Balad MKs - Azmi Bishara, Jamal Zahalka and Wasal Taha - will be investigated for traveling to an enemy state without authorization. Theoretically this could lead to prosecution, though Bishara has already been under such "investigation" for the past several months for an illegal excursion to Lebanon, a fact which hardly deterred him from breaking the law again. It is hard to understand what there might be to investigate, given that the MKs did not hide their destination, nor their refusal to obtain authorization to go there. Additionally, and unmentioned by Mazuz, there is the invective these MKs poured on Israel during their travels and the support they expressed for the Syrian struggle against what is formally their own state - the one in whose parliament they serve and whose taxpayers fund their paychecks and indirectly their junkets. Bishara, especially, has been to Beirut many times, where he appeared with Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah, lauded him and urged to him to "continue his fight." After one such trip, in 2001, this country's legal system did, uniquely, press charges. But Bishara beat the rap on a technicality. The court noted that his VIP passport exempted him from the duty to obtain the interior minister's approval for travel to enemy territory - a duty which the law imposes on ordinary Israelis. The legislature immediately plugged this loophole and, in 2002, produced an amendment which specifically states that MKs and all other holders of special-issue passports are also obliged to obtain ministerial approval for journeys to enemy states. This amendment has not been enforced, despite recurrent violations. The Balad MKs, accompanied by two former MKs as well - Muhammad Miari and Muhammad Kan'an - plainly thumbed their noses at Israeli law. Perhaps their assumption is that they will enjoy the same impunity as previously. MKs from other Arab factions, like Ahmad Tibi and Talab a-Sanaa, have likewise gone on similar forbidden trips without repercussions. The Balad MKs may also have violated the law against "supporting the armed struggle of an enemy state or a terrorist organization against Israel." While in Damascus, Bishara extolled Syria's "struggle to liberate occupied Arab land, its resistance against occupation and its defense of the legitimacy of such resistance." He warned Syria of likely "preemptive Israeli strikes" and, on Lebanon, berated "Israel's barbaric onslaughts." Zahaka argued that "for us Syria is no enemy" and voiced "solidarity with Syria, especially after Israel's savage aggression against Lebanon." Taha recently revealed he had recommended that organizations hostile to Israel "concentrate their efforts on attacking and abducting Israeli soldiers." A country's legal code is the glue which keeps its social fabric from fraying and tearing. When that code is contravened, the country's resolve to uphold its sovereignty is tested. If it fails to implement and enforce its laws, it loses authority. Laws cannot apply only to one segment of the population. Such a situation broadcasts not broadmindedness and magnanimity but vacillation and weakness. It invites further breaches. This is a crucial test for our system. It is bound with the fact that the tax authorities and police fear to operate in some Arab townships, that illegal construction there is rampant, and that far from all of Israel's Arab citizens feel they owe even pro-forma allegiance to the state from which they demand all the benefits to which their citizenship entitles them. This the environment which led a Nazareth father who lost his two young sons to a Hizbullah Katyusha a few weeks back to praise Nasrallah as "a distinguished leader and a beloved brother" and blame Israel's self-defense for his tragedy. Israel is at a crossroads. It must decide between inviting disloyalty, emboldening subversion and losing the last remnants of respect in its Arab community, or reaffirming the rule of law and thereby discouraging future internecine conflict. The Knesset has equipped the judiciary with the tools to enforce the law - to go beyond declarative "investigations" which thus far have led nowhere.