The Strange Case of MK Bishara
Israeli Arab Member of the Knesset (MK) Azmi Bishara has long been a thorn in the side of the Israeli government and most of the Israeli public. He - and his party, Balad - are not reconciled to Israel as a "Jewish State", and have openly campaigned to have Israel undergo "de-Zionization", to treat Arab and Jewish citizens exactly alike, to repeal the Law of Return which allows Jews from anywhere to move to Israel and automatically acquire Isreali citizenship, to cede all the occupied territories and recognize a Palestinean State, to allow for the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel proper, etc. He calls for Israeli Arabs to identify with the larger "Arab Nation" and vociferously objected to Israel's war policy in Lebanon last summer, and openly "rooted" for Hezbollah to "teach the Israeli government a lesson."
All of this is legal in Israel, but clearly pushes the limits of public tolerance. And the Israeli Security Services (Shin Bet) have acknowledged that they are "watching" Bishara and his Balad party as a "threatening organization", despite the fact that the courts have ruled them a legal party.
Now Bishara is somewhere outside of Israel travelling, and rumours are flying that: he is going to resign his Knesset seat; he is never returning to Israel; he is under some sort of Shin Bet investigation.
What is known for sure is, that there is an investigation, and that there is a gag order about the content of that investigation. (Until today there was a gag order on the existence of the gag order!)
Bishara himself, in an article in Haaretz, claims he is being hounded from Israel, that he is being framed, though a week earlier he said he was considering resigning from the Knesset only because he found he could do nothing more useful there.
Rumours - supposedly substantiated - on Israeli blogs - mostly right wing - say Bishara is being investigated for spying for Syria.
If he in fact did so, who can support him?
On the other hand, who can support gag orders about such high profile investigations. And it is certainly not inconceivable that a person with Bishara's opinions and standing would be deliberately targeted and framed by the Shin Bet.
On the third hand, Bishara himself has now announced that he may delay his resignation from the Knesset in order to avoid prosecution, since MKs are immune from prosecution in Israel. But since spying is specifically not covered by a Knesset Member's immunity from prosecution - maybe the alleged charges are something else.
And on the forth hand, it could be that what the Shin Bet calls "spying" is another persons "friendly discussions" . Bishara openly travelled to Syria, and held "friendly discussions" (his words) with government officials there. (This is something that would be illegal for an ordinary Israeli, but is specifically covered by a MKs immunity privileges.) But what did Bishara tell the Syrians? If it was the detailed location or nature of Israeli military facilities, then that's spying in anyone's book. If it was his evaluation of the political forces in the Knesset, or the mood of the Israeli Arab "street", or his evaluation of the Israeli public's opinion on war and peace - is that spying? No. But that may not interest the Shin Bet.