The gag order imposed on media reporting of the Shin Bet treason case against Azmi Bishara has been lifted. Unfortunately, we don’t know much more now than we did before. But at least it has freed Bishara from enough constraints that he has published a sharp rebuttal to the charges (as much as they are known) in the L.A. Times.
Haaretz has reported the case based on anonymous security sources giving their view of the charges. A dubious proposition journalistically, but that seems to be how Israeli media operates giving (too) wide latitude toward government sources. It also would be nice to see a whole lot more “alleges” in this dispatch since otherwise we’re to assume we should accept the Shin Bet’s allegations as truth. Here is what those sources report:
The police and Shin Bet have sufficient evidence to indict former MK Azmi Bishara for crimes such as contact with the enemy, say sources who have seen the evidence in recent weeks.
The sources say it will be very difficult for Bishara to refute the evidence, even if he appears in person to participate in police interviews.
…Most of the allegations involve contact with Hezbollah intelligence agencies, which the police and the Shin Bet say were responsible for collecting intelligence on Israel during the Second Lebanon War. The bulk of the evidence is based on wire taps of Bishara’s telephone conversations with Hezbollah agents. These recordings were authorized by the Supreme Court.
The evidence also suggests that Bishara assisted Hezbollah in broadening the impact of its attacks on Israel by helping direct its rocket barrages and offering recommendations on how to carry out psychological warfare against Israelis. Bishara is also suspected of transferring to Hezbollah military information, but the military censor has imposed a gag order on that information.
In addition to the evidence suggesting that Bishara’s activities were tantamount to treason, investigators are working on an angle involving financial violations.
The investigators are trying to connect evidence to suspicions that Bishara violated the law forbidding the funding of terrorism. The evidence is based on the testimony of a family of Jerusalem-based money changers who say they have delivered hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash to Bishara’s home in Beit Hanina. The funds have also not been declared to the tax authorities as required by law.
The investigators have so far been unable to trace the money and are not sure whether Bishara kept the funds or distributed them to other organizations. The police are considering initiating an investigation in a number of countries where the funds are known to have originated or passed through.
I’m glad to say that no U.S. publication, especially after the misinformation it’s been fed by the Bush Administration for the past six years, would ever report a story like this.
So what do we have? The spooks claim they have enough evidence to indict. They claim, without providing any evidence, that he had contact with Hezbollah agents. What’s a real stunner is that Bishara, if the Shin Bet is to be believed, was a sort of civilian “spotter” who phoned in coordinates to the Hezbollah gunners to improve the aim of their rockets and kill more of his fellow Arabs (who suffered high casualties during these barrages). As for “transferring military information,” do you think one of the most mistrusted members of the Israeli Knesset would be trusted with ANYTHING in the way of “military information.” As for “offering recommendations on how to carry out psychological warfare against Israelis,” we’ll just have to see precisely what that means in terms of real actions rather than just allegations.
All of this of course is nothing new for Bishara since the intelligence agency has been after him for years. But what is new is the corruption allegation. They believe he received several hundred thousand dollars from foreign sources. They can’t determine whether he distributed them to Arab political organizations or kept it himself and they can’t determine where he got the money. Sounds like a slam dunk to me.
All the rest is bunk. The treason angle is bunk as far as I’m concerned. Mere ventilating for the sake of the right-wing Israeli constituency which wants Bishara’s hide; and an effort to intimidate Bishara and his movement into scaling back their nationalist demands and aspirations. The Shin Bet recently announced that Israeli Arab nationalism was a grave threat to Israel and that would do everything in its power (and that covers a lot of ground both legal and not when an Israeli intelligence agency makes such a statement) to defeat such an effort whether or not it was pursued legally. When the security services of a democratic nation publicly declare that they will defeat a domestic political movement which is adhering to the rules of that democracy–is that nation still a true democracy??
It’s only fair, since Haaretz in this article basically allowed itself to be a mouthpiece of the Shin Bet, to air Bishara’s rebuttal in his first major article in a U.S. publication since the charges began to fly. He begins with a very apt historical comparison of his own predicament to the Dreyfuss Affair:
in an ironic twist reminiscent of France’s Dreyfus affair — in which a French Jew was accused of disloyalty to the state — the government of Israel is accusing me of aiding the enemy during Israel’s failed war against Lebanon in July.
The reason it is an apt comparison is that Dreyfuss too was a public official (an army officer) and member of a despised minority (a Jew in France) accused of treason. The charges against Dreyfuss were trumped up by anti-Semitic army officers who wished to cover up malfeasance by themselves and others.
Of course, we only know of Dreyfuss’ innocence now. In the moment, I’m sure Dreyfuss and his actions may’ve looked as suspect as Bishara’s do to some Israelis. We will only discover the truth or falsehood of the charges against Bishara in the course of time. Perhaps the Bishara case will not turn out to be as black and white as Dreyfuss was. Or perhaps it will.
Here Bishara responds to some of the basic charges against him:
Israeli police apparently suspect me of passing information to a foreign agent and of receiving money in return. Under Israeli law, anyone — a journalist or a personal friend — can be defined as a “foreign agent” by the Israeli security apparatus. Such charges can lead to life imprisonment or even the death penalty.
The allegations are ridiculous. Needless to say, Hezbollah — Israel’s enemy in Lebanon — has independently gathered more security information about Israel than any Arab Knesset member could possibly provide. What’s more, unlike those in Israel’s parliament who have been involved in acts of violence, I have never used violence or participated in wars. My instruments of persuasion, in contrast, are simply words in books, articles and speeches.
Here Bishara provides a lesson in the history of Arabs in Israel:
When Israel was established in 1948, more than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled in fear. My family was among the minority that escaped that fate, remaining instead on the land where we had long lived. The Israeli state, established exclusively for Jews, embarked immediately on transforming us into foreigners in our own country.
For the first 18 years of Israeli statehood, we, as Israeli citizens, lived under military rule with pass laws that controlled our every movement. We watched Jewish Israeli towns spring up over destroyed Palestinian villages.
Today we make up 20% of Israel’s population…But we face legal, institutional and informal discrimination in all spheres of life.
More than 20 Israeli laws explicitly privilege Jews over non-Jews. The Law of Return, for example, grants automatic citizenship to Jews from anywhere in the world. Yet Palestinian refugees are denied the right to return to the country they were forced to leave in 1948. The Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty — Israel’s “Bill of Rights” — defines the state as “Jewish” rather than a state for all its citizens. Thus Israel is more for Jews living in Los Angeles or Paris than it is for native Palestinians.
Here is the crux of the threat that Bishara poses to Israel and the reason why he drives the security apparatus crazy:
I have also asserted the right of the Lebanese people, and of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to resist Israel’s illegal military occupation. I do not see those who fight for freedom as my enemies.
This may discomfort Jewish Israelis, but they cannot deny us our history and identity any more than we can negate the ties that bind them to world Jewry. After all, it is not we, but Israeli Jews who immigrated to this land. Immigrants might be asked to give up their former identity in exchange for equal citizenship, but we are not immigrants.
In other words, just as Israeli Jews have ties to their brethren near and far, so too Israeli Arabs have family, cultural and super-national ties to their brethren living in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. If Israeli Jews maintain solidarity with me here in Seattle, WA–why can’t Bishara maintain solidarity with Arabs of neighboring countries?
This expression of solidarity clearly threatens Israeli Jews and the government. But if we look back on our own history, we find that the 19th century was full of anti-Catholic bigotry which posited that immigrant Catholics owed a greater allegiance to Rome than to America. And what is the dual loyalty canard raised against American Jews but another form of this.
If all Bishara did in these alleged conversations was what he says he did here (“asserted the right of the Lebanese…and Palestinians…to resist Israel’s occupation”) then he has done nothing legally actionable.
In this concluding section, the Arab politician lays out the history of persecution he has suffered at the hands of the Israeli justice system and places it in the context of the Arab nationalist struggle:
During my years in the Knesset, the attorney general indicted me for voicing my political opinions (the charges were dropped), lobbied to have my parliamentary immunity revoked and sought unsuccessfully to disqualify my political party from participating in elections — all because I believe Israel should be a state for all its citizens and because I have spoken out against Israeli military occupation. Last year, Cabinet member Avigdor Lieberman — an immigrant from Moldova — declared that Palestinian citizens of Israel “have no place here,” that we should “take our bundles and get lost.” After I met with a leader of the Palestinian Authority from Hamas, Lieberman called for my execution.
The Israeli authorities are trying to intimidate not just me but all Palestinian citizens of Israel. But we will not be intimidated. We will not bow to permanent servitude in the land of our ancestors or to being severed from our natural connections to the Arab world…If we turn back from our path to freedom now, we will consign future generations to the discrimination we have faced for six decades.
Before one accepts the load of malarkey about treason and indictable offenses in the Haaretz article one ought to ponder the cogency and power of this message. In Azmi Bishara, Israeli Jews have found a worthy adversary, one who will challenge them “where they live.” People may hate this man. They may find him an odious charlatan. But in a way he is the mirror image of Israeli Jews and their attitudes toward their fellow Arabs. Bishara seems to be saying: “if you hate my people I will become an adversary worthy of that hatred.” The Israeli majority, in its smugness and racist notions of Arab inferiority, has found a leader who reflects back at them their intolerance. So, yes, Bishara may be a demagogue. He may be a hot-headed, egotistical show-boater. He may incite Arab anger and even hatred against the State. But what do Jews expect? Have they met their Arab fellow citizens anywhere near halfway?
I hear echoes of Martin Luther King’s FBI harassment in Bishara’s invocation of the American civil rights movement in this passage:
Americans know from their own history of institutional discrimination the tactics that have been used against civil rights leaders. These include telephone bugging, police surveillance, political delegitimization and criminalization of dissent through false accusations. Israel is continuing to use these tactics at a time when the world no longer tolerates such practices as compatible with democracy.
As I wrote above, whatever this man’s weaknesses, this paragraph in particular makes clear Bishara’s ability to invoke references to his audience’s own political history and experience in order to draw them closer to his own. A worthy adversary and one to be reckoned with.