An Israeli Arab's troubles mirror woes of dual identity
Politician Azmi Bishara, an increasingly vocal critic of Israel, has quit the Knesset amid reports he is under criminal investigation.
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Theories over what Bishara will be charged with if and when he returns abroad abound. Bishara has indicated in interviews with Al Jazeera satellite channel that he might not return, telling reporters in Cairo that coming back now would force him to face a "right-wing, fascist, racist orchestra."Skip to next paragraph
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Observers here say that Bishara will be charged based on his recent trips to Syria and Lebanon – including meetings with Hizbullah, the Iranian-backed militant group and political party.
Bishara's colleagues say the Israeli establishment decided that Bishara had gone "too far" when, during the war last summer, he sided with Lebanon. Bishara's confidantes also say they expect he'll be charged with being involved in financial dealings with groups such as Hizbullah – in violation of an Israeli antiterrorism law – and with illegally bringing money into Israel.
Bishara is hardly a poster child of Islamic fundamentalism. He's a secular Christian who obtained a doctorate in philosophy from East Germany and, until founding the Balad Party, was a key figure in the Hadash: a communist, non-Zionist party of both Jews and Arabs.
Mahmoud Muhareb, a Balad Party member and a political scientist at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, says the complications are broader than the case against Bishara. The very landscape of Arab-Jewish relations inside Israel is shifting.
Part of this focuses on the changing identity of Israeli Arabs, as expressed in the "Future Vision" document, and the Israeli discomfort with it. "I think the Israeli establishment and the Shin Bet want to change the rules of the game, because they realize that the Arabs in Israel are not as silent as they were in the 70s, 80s, and 90s," says Dr. Muhareb.
In years past, issues and struggles of Israeli Arabs focused more on equality and equity – trying to close the funding gap between how much Arab schools and municipalities got compared to Jewish ones. Issues of the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza seemed altogether different.
Now, however, interests of the two seem to converge more often, with Bishara representative of that blurring of agendas.
That Arabs inside Israel might eventually demand autonomy – and perhaps some kind of unification with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza – has been a paramount concern among Israeli strategists for years. Population experts and birthrate specialists here regularly worry aloud that the Israeli Jewish population will gradually lose its demographic edge. Furthermore, the concept of autonomy for Arabs inside Israel raises suspicions that the Arab population in key areas of the country would eventually ask to be annexed to a Palestinian state.
"The Bishara case summarizes the huge rift between the Israeli vision of the reality of Israel and its ambition to become a Jewish state in shape and content ... between its vision of solving the Arab-Israeli conflict and between the demands of the Arab minority's demand to national, social and political rights," Mamoun al-Husseini, a political analyst wrote in the al-Quds Newspaper.