Rejecting Bishara

Israel's Arabs should realize schmoozing with Israel's enemies does not serve their interests.

azmi bishara (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
azmi bishara
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Israel's Arab sector is no less divided by political strife, conflicting orientations and opposing ideologies than this country's Jewish majority. Given this diversity, it's particularly distressing that no significant body of opinion - nor even a single prominent public figure - has seen fit to prominently censure ex-MK Azmi Bishara for the treasonous offenses attributed to him. It's disquieting enough that Bishara allegedly crossed even Israel's ultra-liberal bounds of tolerance - excessively tolerant in his case. It's yet more troubling that such conduct came from a member of this country's legislature, intended exemplars of the best of Israeli values, not the worst. Nevertheless, as far as this can be considered one individual's transgression, no matter how flagrant and disloyal, it can be put behind us. What cannot be so easily put aside is the fact that in the extensive Israeli Arab communal array, reactions have ranged from contentions that Bishara was framed as part of a political plot (his allies' version) to condemnations of Bishara's flight (prevalent among his antagonists). That even his most bitter political rivals haven't felt an imperative to assail Bishara's alleged wartime collaboration with the enemy constitutes significantly greater cause for concern than the charges themselves. The elaborate conspiracy theories are too fantastic to deserve much attention or any credence; paradoxically it is the widespread reproach for Bishara's escape that is the more alarming. Ex-Labor MK Abdul Wahab Darawshe, for instance, took Bishara most severely to task not for the harm he may have caused Israel's security and the injury he inflicted on the standing of Arabs within the Israeli system, but for having "just run away to save his own skin, leaving his people behind to fight without him. He shouldn't have feared even prison, and should have stayed to struggle with his own people." Darawshe's comments, it needs be stressed, were among the mildest. Others have argued that by getting away, Bishara has helped Israelis implement "their transfer scheme." In this context, Bishara has been unfavorably contrasted with Islamic Movement northern branch chief Raed Sallah, who served prison time for aiding Hamas. The common denominator of these Israeli Arab reactions wasn't that Bishara contravened the law and betrayed Israel - the country in whose parliament he served and whose taxpayers footed his bills - but that he didn't continue the fight against Israel. Such rhetoric from the Israeli Arab leadership cannot be separated from other recent episodes which seem to underscore Israel's increasing delegitimization in the eyes of many of its ordinary Arab citizens. Thus on Memorial Day, in as mixed and broadminded a city as Haifa, some local Arabs set off fireworks, played loud celebratory music, cheered merrily and applauded just as the sirens were sounded to begin the day of national mourning. Similar behavior disrupted actual memorial rites at Haifa and Karmiel cemeteries. On Independence Day, 150 Haifa residents picnicking in the Megiddo Forest were violently accosted by some 6,000 jeering residents of Umm el-Fahm - many on horseback and carrying Palestinian flags. They proceeded to stone and beat the Jewish picnickers. Such audacious and open contempt for Israel was unheard of not too many years back and must to some extent be ascribed to the inflammatory politics practiced by Arab legislators. They cynically radicalize their electorate, whose response in turn encourages even more extreme politicking. It's long past time for Israeli Arabs to seriously ponder whether this vicious cycle serves them or whether it counteracts future coexistence efforts. As Post correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh opined last week: "The damage Bishara has done to the cause of Israel's entire Arab minority is almost irreparable. Bishara is responsible, among other things, for the fact that many Jews today regard Arab citizens as a 'fifth column' and a major security threat." Bishara's case, he went on hopefully, "could serve as a wake-up call for Israel's Arab citizens, many of whom may finally realize that schmoozing with such dubious figures as Nasrallah and Assad doesn't serve their interests." If ever forthright soul-searching among Israeli Arabs were imperative, this is the time for it.