Azmi Bishara is one of the few Arab
politicians inside the Israeli establishment
Opposing Israeli occupation from outside the country is one thing. Resisting it from within is quite another, as Arab-Israeli member of the Knesset Azmi Bishara has discovered.
While Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza have been resisting occupation with stones, guns and bombs Bishara has used verbal missiles to impress upon Tel Aviv the need to withdraw completely from the West Bank and Gaza. All this from within the Israeli seat of power - the four walls of the Israeli Parliament, or the Knesset.
Bishara may live in Israel as a member of the Knesset (MK) but he evokes grudging admiration from the Palestinian diaspora for his commitment to their cause, and sticking his neck out in their support. The 47-year-old Bishara, a Ph.D in Philosophy from Berlin’s Humboldt university, has used whatever democratic space is available to make his demands heard.
In Israel where an invisible line often separates the lives of Arabs and the Jews, Bishara has friends on both sides of the divide. In the last few years, particularly since the outbreak of the “Al-Aqsa Intifada” Bishara has been reluctant to move freely on the streets of Israel, be seen sitting in cafes, probably out of concern for his own safety
Bishara stretched the democratic space available to Arabs to its limits when he visited Syria to attend the funeral of deceased president Hafez Al Asad, shared a platform with Hizbullah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and asked other Arab countries for "wider support" for the Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation.
Bishara has sought to bridge the Israeli-
The moves provided the hawks in the Israeli establishment with an opportunity to strip Bishara of his immunity - the first time it has happened to a member of the Knesset for making a speech - and to press for his prosecution. He is now facing charges of sedition which, if successful, could land him in jail for a year.
Bishara was an early convert to politics, particularly the confrontational type. His family was middle-class, Christian. But his father, a government employee, was an active Communist member.
Before he contested elections, Bishara was a professor of philosophy. Not surprising since he grew up in a house full of the books of 19th-century philosophers. He came early to politics, helping to establish an Arab students’ union when he was in his mid-teens. He remained active through his university years, before changing course to study philosophy at Humboldt University in what was then East Germany.
Bishara sees himself as a product of liberal, democratic ideas. In Berlin, his university friends were dissidents. His current bedside reading is a book by a former Italian Trotskyist, and he continues to enjoy strong ties with the Israeli left.
He brought these liberal ideas to his Balad party — an acronym for National Democratic Alliance, which means homeland in Arabic — by promoting a vision of equality for Israel’s Arab citizens that goes beyond ending the official discrimination the community has suffered for decades.