I’ve been waiting for Haaretz to make a strong statement about the Azmi Bishara case. Thanks to a judicial gag order, it’s seemed that for the last two weeks in which Israel knew the Shin Bet was building a secret case against him that the case existed almost in a media vacuum. Any articles that were published in Israel lacked any specificity or substance whatsoever. The NY Times published approximately one sentence on the case a few days ago. Only The Forward, AP and The Nation published anything substantive outside Israel. And until the past few days, none published with any specificity the alleged charges against Bishara as I did here over a week ago.
Can you imagine if the Pentagon Papers case had happened in Israel instead of here? We’d still be wondering what the hell Nixon was so pissed off at Ellsberg about because Haaretz might never have printed what the Times did. This tells you reams about the level of press freedom and independence in Israel.
But kudos to the editors for finally taking a stand:
…It seems likely that the main charge [against Bishara] – assisting the enemy in time of war, which is the gravest charge possible – will turn out to be a tendentious exaggeration of his telephone conversations and meetings with Lebanese and Syrian nationals, and possibly also of his expressions of support for their military activities. It seems very doubtful that MK Bishara even has access to defense-related secrets that he could sell to the enemy, and like in the [Tali] Fahima case, the fact that he identified with the enemy during wartime appears to be what fueled the desire to seek and find an excuse for bringing him to trial.
…It seems that the case against Bishara is also based more on the justified revulsion against his sympathy for Hezbollah than on whether he actually undermined national security. Hopefully, the gag order will soon be lifted, so that it will be possible to analyze the accusations in detail.
…There is a substantive difference between criticizing him and accusing him of giving information to an enemy in wartime, just as there is a difference between justice and persecution.
The editorial correctly notes that the charges of alleged financial impropriety, if proven, are more serious:
The charges relating to the illegal transfer and use of funds are a different matter, and these are likely to cause the greatest anger among his constituents. It is unfortunate that the state did not focus on the financial violations and opted instead for the security route, which, from the little that has been released to date, seems to be rather weak.
It is clear that the reason the Shin Bet has chosen not to focus solely on financial charges is that corrupt Israeli pols are a dime a dozen. Ehud Olmert has no less than three serious criminal investigations of his allegedly corrupt behavior going on right now. To really get Bishara, they would have to prove more than his personal corruption. They have to prove he is a traitor. And this they probably cannot do.
Haaretz also notes the dubious use of the judicial system to harass uppity Arabs:
The results of the Fahima trial suggest that Bishara’s wariness of the courts is not unfounded. Nonetheless, someone who chose to be a Knesset member and to join the legislature of the State of Israel is not supposed to flee the country when he is in trouble. He is expected to fight the accusations against him with all legal means at his disposal, and these are substantial.
While I agree with this sentiment in principle, isn’t it easy for someone sitting in a comfortable editorial office in Tel Aviv to tell a persecuted Arab politician that he ought to invest potentially years of his life, not to mention hundreds of thousands of shekels to prove his innocence; and if he fails, to go to prison for his trouble. Has that editorial writer ever faced having a kidney transplant and the possibility that he will spend time in an Israeli prison tended by whatever poor quality of medical care might be offered there? I think this paragraph borders on chutzpah.
For its part, the state must release every detail that could contribute to an understanding of the Bishara case without delay, in order to avoid creating the impression that secrecy is serving as a cover for a lack of substantial evidence…The state should also publish his version of events, as given to police investigators during two separate interrogations.