It is exceedingly difficult to defend MK Azmi Bishara, who praises the successes of Hezbollah from Damascus and speaks with Syria's leader with the freedom accorded him because he is an Israeli - which would not have happened had he been a Syrian citizen.
The visits by Bishara and other Arab MKs to countries defined as "enemy states," such as Lebanon and Syria, have for some time become, repulsively, par for the course with respect to the Israeli political scene. These visits are forbidden by law, but it is the very defiance of the law that makes them so prestigious since they draw extreme reactions and provide easy and provocative publicity.
Had these MKs tried to turn their visits into a bridge between Israel and its enemies, or had they tried to promote coexistence, it is doubtful that the State of Israel would put them on trial. Had they attempted to promote the interests of the sector which they represent and not merely tried to inflame its passions, perhaps the law that outlaws such encounters would not have been created. That, however, is not the situation.
A month after missiles fell on Arab and Jewish Galilee, it is unlikely that an expression of commendation for Hezbollah and of condemnation for Israel can advance the ties between the two populations that live in proximity in the north. The words of praise constitute easy, annoying and superficial public relations like the negative reactions that MKs such as Avigdor Lieberman and Effi Eitam always throw out.
The public expects greater seriousness and responsibility from its MKs, but this is apparently an exaggerated expectation. The equal rights of Israel's Arab citizens will not be furthered by visits like these.
Nevertheless, even though the Arab MKs violated the law, it is not in the public interest to bring them to trial for visiting these countries, and it would be worthwhile for the Knesset to rephrase the law and allow all MKs freedom of movement both inside and outside the country. There is also no reason to turn to the penal code anew every time the MKs utter such remarks; there is no point in calling them in for an investigation which wastes the precious time of the police.
Bringing MKs to trial for visiting enemy countries, as with their remarks, brings to mind the scandalous imprisonment of peace activist Abie Nathan because of his meetings with the PLO. Persecuting politicians who speak out against the government should be left to regimes like that of Bashar Assad.
In 2001, then attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein brought Azmi Bishara to trial for inflammatory remarks that he made in Umm al-Fahm and in Syria. The High Court of Justice at that time ordered that the legal proceedings be called off. Following that, the law was amended so that it would be possible to indict the Arab MKs in the future if they did not request and receive permission from the interior minister to visit enemy countries.
It must be noted that not all Arab MKs are involved in such incidents. Hadash party MKs, such as Mohammed Barakeh, do not participate in the much-publicized trips to Damascus and Beirut, and devote most of their efforts to furthering the status of the Arab citizen.
Israel should encourage MKs to travel to enemy countries on the assumption that only through contacts like these will peace eventually be established. The prohibition in the law is therefore superfluous.
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