Between democracy and Nasserism
Azmi Bishara looks to the enlightenment of Gamal Adbel Nasser for his inspiration. What would the enlightened Nasser have done to an Egyptian parliamentarian who supported the Yemenite struggle against the Egyptian army, equipped with mustard gas, which Nasser sent to Yemen?
On March 8, 2002, while Fuad al Hurani was busy preparing the explosive belt he would blow up in the Moment Cafe in Jerusalem, MK Azmi Bishara published an article in the Israeli weekly Fasal al-Makal in which he wrote passionately in support of the intifada and the alternative of resistance. He mocked those who called on the Palestinians to condemn the violence and condemned what he called "this heroic, glorious struggle." Nowhere in the article did Bishara bother to distinguish between a legitimate struggle against the occupation and the illegitimate struggle against the existence of a nation-state for the Jews. He did not condemn, with even a single word, the killing of Jews for the sake of killing Jews.
It must be remembered: In February-March of 2002, Operation Defensive Shield had not yet taken place. Israeli tanks did not yet control Jenin and Ramallah. The Palestinians had the upper hand; Israel was helpless, bleeding in a flood of terror attacks. Three days before Bishara's article came out, three people were killed in the Sea Food Market in Tel Aviv. Two weeks earlier 11 were killed in Beit Yisrael in Jerusalem. Horror reigned on Palmach Street, Nili Street and Rav Berlin Street in Jerusalem. Many Israeli Jews huddled in the memories of their Holocaust. Many Israeli Jews felt Jewish destiny was knocking on their doors.
But Bishara the humanist did not find the wherewithal to come up with a single word of comfort for them. Bishara the democrat did not include a single word of reservations about the ritualistic acts of murder that were taking place against Jewish Israelis. And while writing in Arabic, to an Arab audience, at one of the climaxes of the Arab attack on the state of Israel, Bishara did not demand the attackers cease.
Azmi Bishara looks to the enlightenment of Gamal Adbel Nasser for his inspiration. What would the enlightened Nasser have done to an Egyptian parliamentarian who supported the Yemenite struggle against the Egyptian army, equipped with mustard gas, which Nasser sent to Yemen? Azmi Bishara derives his inspiration from the progressive, secular leader of Syria, Bashar Assad. What would Assad do to a Syrian MP who supported the struggle by Lebanese against the repressive Alawite army Assad has sent into Lebanese cities? Occasionally, selectively, Bishara also casts his eyes toward the U.S. and France. What would the U.S. do to a senator who in September 2001 had expressed some support, reserved support, for the Al-Qaida alternative? What would France do to a member of the National Assembly who publicly praised the heroic struggle of the Corsican resistance?
A distinction must be made: Bishara's campaign for a redefinition of Israel as a state of all its citizens is legitimate. His campaign for recognition of the national rights of the Arab minority in Israel is a reasonable one. The only democracy in the Middle East must respect the rights of all its citizens to advance their political causes as long as the means they use are legitimate. The moment an elected representative publicly supports using violence against the state, he crosses the lines. he abandons the arena of ideological debate and enters the sphere of bloodshed. Consciously or not, he becomes an accomplice to those who try to defeat the state where he serves as a member of parliament.
Does that mean Bishara and his list should be prevented from participating in the election campaign for the 16th Knesset? Not at all. There is no justification for banning Balad; banning Bishara himself is dangerous. But it would be no less dangerous if the Israeli democratic system were to allow Bishara to continue fanning the flames he's been fueling in recent years or if it grants Bishara a ringing victory that inflames the Galilee and makes a mockery of those peace-seeking Israeli Arabs whom Bishara is shoving to the sidelines.
Democratic Israel now faces a supreme test: It must find a balanced formula that protects the rights of citizen Bishara but establishes an iron wall in front of Bishara the Nasserist. it must find a wise - and aggressive - formula that will protect Israeli democracy both from Jewish racism and Arab aggression. If that formula is not found this week, the country will be soon be engulfed in flames.