Haaretz has finally editorialized about L’Affaire Bishara, criticizing the judicial gag order preventing it from fully revealing the facts behind the legal proceedings against Azmi Bishara:
Any way you look at it, the Azmi Bishara affair is problematic. Bishara is a member of the Knesset who is out of Israel under obviously unusual circumstances about which the public knows nothing. An MK is…a public figure; everything about his public affairs is the business of the public. Irrespective of whether the lack of information about him stems from his own need to protect himself or whether it is designed to assist the authorities in an investigation, the result is intolerable. Secret democracy is no democracy at all.
The editorial also usefully debunks some of the worst fearmongering about Bishara’s views stemming from the Israeli far-right:
Azmi Bishara is the most challenging Arab public figure in Israeli politics because he openly supports the de-Zionization of Israel and wants it to become a bi-national state. The claim that he seeks the destruction of Israel is unsupported. In an interview with Haaretz Bishara said, “I think that in 1948 the Jews in this country did not have the right to self-determination, and if there were such a right, it really caused so much injustice that I am not prepared to accept it. But now we are talking about an existing state, and despite the fact that I was opposed to its existence in the past, I now am trying to restore some justice to the relationship between the Israeli people and the Palestinian people.”
Clearly the Shin Bet, along with the Likud, also support this notion and this is largely what motivates whatever prosecution of Bishara that is planned. What I can’t understand though is what the security establishment gains by proceeding in secret. Such secrecy seems to indicate fear or weakness, rather than the “come out swinging” offensive posture you’d expect such officials to take if they were confident in their case.
Haaretz also calls on the Knesset itself to accord to Bishara the respect and immunity it accords to the rest of its members:
This office [Bishara’s Knesset seat] now obligates both him and the Knesset. The Knesset must respect Bishara’s immunity in all matters involving his public function as he sees it…
It is to be hoped that Israeli democracy will deal fairly and justly with the Bishara affair, and will not be influenced by the fact that he is an Arab. Perhaps as a first step, retired justice Dalia Dorner, the chair of the Israel Press Council, should use every possible means, including judicial ones, to make the information on the affair available to the public.
Wishing that Israeli democracy will not be influenced by Bishara’s ethnicity seems a vain effort. And I don’t know much about the Press Council, but this seems a tame and tepid response to the Shin Bet’s onslaught against Israeli democracy. I was hoping for a bit more spine, a bit more defiance from Israel’s leading liberal daily.
There is good reason to be concerned about the Knessset’s posture toward Bishara as another Haaretz article makes clear. The Israeli body plans to meet in “extraordinary session” to consider the Bishara affair. But the terms of the debate already make clear that they’re prepared, nay eager, to throw him to the wolves:
MK Zevulun Orlev (National Union) said the plenum would focus on “the question of the loyalty of Arab MKs to the Jewish and democratic State of Israel, with the Bishara affair and with meetings by Arab MKs with the enemies of Israel, which represents a crossing of red lines.”
Even given that Orlev is a clearly racist hard-right political operative, such hateful sentiments are deeply disturbing. This type of statement indicates the level of hatred and mistrust that Israeli Arabs must face not just in their own parliament, but in their everyday lives.