In Cairo, Bishara Quits the Knesset

MK Azmi Bishara submitted his resignation from the Knesset at Israel's embassy in Cairo yesterday. In an interview with Al Jazeera he said he decided to waive his immunity due to the "chorus of incitement" against him. Bishara vowed to return to Israel but doesn't know when. "I am a son of Palestine and a son of Greater Syria - exile is not an option for me and my return is certain," he said.

"I have contributed to a new parliamentary discussion of the Arab population as a national collective," Bishara added in his resignation letter. He did not mention the police investigation against him. He asserted that he made his decision after the elections a year ago. "I always believed I was in the Knesset as a mission, not a profession," he wrote.

Bishara signed the letter after identifying himself before the Israeli consul in Egypt, Eli Sisso. He then met with ambassador Shalom Cohen, mostly about technical details. This is the f irst time a lawmaker has resigned before an Israeli diplomat abroad.

Bishara's party Balad stated yesterday that the MK had decided to resign in the face of the "incitement festival" against him in the Knesset. "An immediate return to Israel would mean an inability to leave again for years," the party said of its leader. It added that Bishara would continue to be a party member and that he would return to Israel when the situation was clearer. Bishara will return to Qatar where he is participating in a democracy summit, the party said.

The police agreed yesterday to a Haaretz petition to narrow the injunction covering the affair. Balad opposed peeling back part of the gag order, and the Petah Tikva Magistrates Court set a hearing on the matter for Wednesday.

Balad said yesterday the party wants the entire order lifted. "Partially peeling back the order would allow the police to publish its version selectively and deceptively while Balad would be barred from revealing details," the party statement reads. It claims the affair is a "political assassination attempt" aimed at silencing Bishara through false accusations.

In what may be a parliamentary precedent, Knesset director general Avi Balashnikov, under instructions from the Justice Ministry, ordered Bishara's Knesset office sealed yesterday. Entry will be allowed only with Balashnikov's permission.

Bishara's designated replacement, MK Jamal Zahalka, called the move illegal. "The resignation does not take effect for 48 hours. Until then he is still a member of the Knesset. It is a vengeful measure revealing the police's nervousness."

Balashnikov said in response that "we were asked by law enforcement authorities not to let anyone into his office." According to Balashnikov, this does not infringe on Bishara's immunity as nothing in the room will change.

Acting president and Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik yesterday called on lawmakers not to "rave and avoid responses bordering on racism."

The head of the National Religious Party, Zevulun Orlev, said that "law enforcement should get its hands on Bishara and exhaust the legal process." NRP official Shalom Jerby even called on Mossad chief Mair Dagan "to locate Bishara and bring him back the way that institution knows how."