Fall of the Fig Leaf

Those who want Azmi Bishara in the Knesset again should first of all attend to changing the definition of the state and not take pride in its being a democracy only because it accords many MKs a place of honor in the Knesset.

The semantic argument over what MK Azmi Bishara did or did not say at a memorial event for Hafez Assad in Damascus in June of 2001 is a secondary issue. In a roundabout style, Bishara explained to his audience that "after the victory of the Hezbollah resistance in South Lebanon, after Geneva and after the failure of Camp David, the government of Israel began to restrict this sphere of activity of the resistance operations. It is presenting an alternative: to accept the Israeli terms, and if not - a full-scale war. And there is no way to continue with the third option, the way of the resistance, other than by expanding this sphere anew, so that people can struggle and carry out resistance."

Yes, resistance can be quiet, civil and nonviolent. But when the remarks are made in the presence of the secretary-general of Hezbollah, and in the context of Lebanon, and when Bishara describes Hezbollah's resistance to Israel as "heroism of Islamic resistance," there is no doubt that he was not referring to placards and sit-down strikes. But this is not what is in question, because it is for this that Bishara has been placed on trial.

Nor is the point at issue whether Bishara - who was one of the first to call on the Arab citizens of Israel to cast a blank ballot - should be in the Knesset. Because what is on the agenda is not the internal contradictions in Bishara's logic but the internal contradiction of the Jewish side: the side that is taking deep umbrage and demanding that democracy be respected in the light of the decision by the Central Elections Committee to disqualify Bishara from running for the Knesset (pending the decision of the Supreme Court), while at the same time it is reverentially saluting the law that made the disqualification possible and defined the image of Israeli democracy. The law, according to its original version, as passed by the Knesset in 1985, is a mirror of the norm of the Jewish principle in Israel, which holds that Israel is a Jewish democratic state. First Jewish, then democratic.

So anyone who feels he can live with this law cannot also take issue with the legislators for disqualifying Bishara on the basis of the law. Activists of the center and the left in Israel cannot whine about the disqualification on the eve of the election when they have displayed no initiative to revise the law since its enactment.

This is an equally good occasion to wonder about the fear of the right-wingers, those who lust for disqualification, in the face of the ideology that Bishara represents. Who or what is he threatening? Can Bishara's ideology really and truly have an impact on the majority of the Jewish public? Can it really and truly change the image of the State of Israel? If such a danger does in fact exist, right-wingers should feel a deep sense of failure and not of fear. Or perhaps these people are afraid that Bishara will influence the majority of the Arab citizens of Israel. Probably not, but if so - why were they in such a hurry to make him a local hero?

The truth is that the ideology of an Arab minority in a Jewish state has no chance. It is dangerous only if it induces its adherents to take up arms and carry out acts of terrorism, though in that case it seems rather unlikely that the Knesset rostrum, of all places, will become the base for the message of those who preach terrorism.

If the ideology is not a threat, why not permit Bishara to run for the Knesset? Because there is a vast chasm between voicing ideology in Syria, Nazareth or Jerusalem, and membership in the legislative branch of the State of Israel. Azmi Bishara's membership in the Knesset makes him a representative of the entire public in Israel. He will be an integral part of the system that creates the norms that are binding on every citizen in the Jewish democracy, and not only the representative of one particular sector of the population.

So the question at hand is not only a legal one of whether Bishara broke the law. His membership in the Knesset according to the ideology he espouses constitutes a fundamental contradiction in a state with this particular character. Those who want Bishara in the Knesset again should first of all attend to changing the definition of the state and not take pride in its being a democracy only because it accords many MKs a place of honor in the Knesset. Nor is it superfluous to ask Bishara what he is after in this kind of Knesset. As an MK, will he think that the state is less racist? By the very fact of being in the Knesset, is he not with his own hands providing a fig leaf of democracy for the institution that enacted the law that disqualified him? But that's a contradiction of a different kind.