The Azmi Bishara affair appears on the face of it to be a new version of the Tali Fahima trial. On the basis of the little that has been published to date, it seems likely that the main charge - assisting the enemy in time of war, which is the gravest charge possible - will turn out to be a tendentious exaggeration of his telephone conversations and meetings with Lebanese and Syrian nationals, and possibly also of his expressions of support for their military activities. It seems very doubtful that MK Bishara even has access to defense-related secrets that he could sell to the enemy, and like in the Fahima case, the fact that he identified with the enemy during wartime appears to be what fueled the desire to seek and find an excuse for bringing him to trial.
Fahima was sentenced to three years in prison for living in the home of Zacharia Zbeidi, the commander of the Al-Aqsa Brigades in Jenin, during an Israel Defense Forces operation there, and for reading him an IDF document that was found in the area. She was accused of assisting the enemy by translating a secret document for him, even though this charge was obviously nonsensical: Zbeidi did not require her assistance, since he knows Hebrew. Fahima spent three years in prison unnecessarily, because the system objected to her sympathizing with the enemy at a time when terrorist attacks were being carried out in Israel.
In Fahima's case, her three-month administrative detention, as well as her indictment and sentence, stemmed more from the public mood than from the substance of her offense. It seems that the case against Bishara is also based more on the justified revulsion against his sympathy for Hezbollah than on whether he actually undermined national security. Hopefully, the gag order will soon be lifted, so that it will be possible to analyze the accusations in detail.
One does not have to agree with Bishara's behavior, and it can even be strongly condemned. However, there is a substantive difference between criticizing him and accusing him of giving information to an enemy in wartime, just as there is a difference between justice and persecution.
The charges relating to the illegal transfer and use of funds are a different matter, and these are likely to cause the greatest anger among his constituents. It is unfortunate that the state did not focus on the financial violations and opted instead for the security route, which, from the little that has been released to date, seems to be rather weak.
The results of the Fahima trial suggest that Bishara's wariness of the courts is not unfounded. Nonetheless, someone who chose to be a Knesset member and to join the legislature of the State of Israel is not supposed to flee the country when he is in trouble. He is expected to fight the accusations against him with all legal means at his disposal, and these are substantial.
For its part, the state must release every detail that could contribute to an understanding of the Bishara case without delay, in order to avoid creating the impression that secrecy is serving as a cover for a lack of substantial evidence. Because Bishara has fled the country, and it is not clear whether he will ever actually be tried, the state should also publish his version of events, as given to police investigators during two separate interrogations.