Israel Permits Anti-Israelism in Knesset
An Arab member of Israel’s Knesset, Azmi Bishara, last week evaded a Knesset Ethics Committee censure and survived an attempt to get him expelled. The fact that he is still a functioning member of this legislative body reveals Israel’s dangerous overcommitment to the principle of tolerance.
Bishara heads Israel’s Arab nationalist Balad party, whose primary aim is the creation of a Palestinian state. He has praised Hezbollah and Syria for attacks on Israel, and condemned Israel’s response to those attacks. He has publicly appeared beside Hezbollah’s leader calling for a “united Arab nation” to join against Israel. Last year, he traveled to Syria to warn the president of a possible Israeli attack. On an upcoming visit to Lebanon, he plans to give an interview on the Hezbollah-owned-and-operated television station.
Member of Knesset (mk) Zevulun Orlev decided he’d had enough, and recently proposed a bill that, in the words of Israel National News, “would allow the Knesset to vote to expel one of its own members who incited racial hatred, denounced Israel’s existence, or expressed support for a terrorist organization or for violence against the State of Israel.”
It can hardly be considered extreme to expect Knesset members to avoid such provocative, hateful behaviors.
But the members of the Legislative Committee who voted on it disagree. During debate on the bill, Bishara was ejected for cursing out a Likud mk with extreme profanity. He later apologized and was not censured for the incident. And later, the committee killed the bill with an 11 to 5 vote.
Orlev’s bill followed the path of previous failed efforts to exclude Bishara’s party. A 2003 ban on Balad caused the Gush Shalom activist group to decry the “aggressive, predatory and racist majority of the extreme right ….” The ban was subsequently overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court.
Many believe Bishara’s presence in the midst of Israel’s government is harmless—that expelling him would be far more dangerous, for ignoring the will of those Arab Israelis who voted him in. As one Supreme Court justice said in permitting Balad back into national politics, “Israel’s democracy is strong and can tolerate irregular cases.”
While this may be true, and we don’t expect a fifth-column uprising within the Knesset, Azmi Bishara is a telling symbol of how the enemies of the state—Syria and Hezbollah in the north, Iran and Saudi Arabia funding Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip and West Bank—have their sympathizers even within the Israeli population. And the toleration of his presence represents Israel’s inability to hold its enemies at bay indefinitely.