Knesset moves to bar Arab members. Israel's impending general election is colouring committee hearings on the expulsion and barring of three 'hostile' parliamentarians,
Guardian (UK), December 30, 2002
"The knesset has begun proceedings to bar three Arab members and their parties from next month's general election because of their support for the Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation. The hearings by a knesset committee are expected to result in the expulsion of Israel's leading Arab politician, Azmi Bishara, and two colleagues. Their parties are likely to be banned, stripping Israel's one million Arabs of their principal voices in parliament. Mr Bishara has already been stripped of his parliamentary immunity and put on trial for alleged crimes against the state. If he is now banned from the knesset, he and his colleagues will be the first Arab members to be expelled. The knesset has previously banned extreme rightwing Jewish parties and politicians.
The Labour opposition says that expulsion could create 'turmoil' and an 'uprising' by Israeli Arabs who believe they are being denied democratic rights. The ostensible reason for barring Mr Bishara and his National Democratic Assembly is his attendance at the funeral of President Hafez Assad of Syria in June 2000, when he made a speech in which he implicitly endorsed the Hizbullah military campaign that drove Israel out of southern Lebanon two years ago. He also accused the Israeli government of resorting to war against Palestinians, and said they were left with little choice but to escalate the struggle against occupation. He called on Arab countries to unite behind the resistance ...
"Mr Bishara says resistance to occupation is a recognised right under international law and that it can take many forms ... But the real issue is wider than his comments at the funeral. The knesset hearings are being held in the politically charged atmosphere of a general election and after two years of intifada which has created new depths of distrust of Israeli Arabs. Some rightwing politicians portray them as a fifth column. That suspicion has been reinforced by Mr Bishara's questioning of whether Israel can be both a Jewish and a democratic state, and his demands for better treatment of the one in five of its citizens who suffer discrimination because they are Arabs. He also believes that an independent Palestinian state should be established alongside Israel. Under a new law introduced in May, the knesset can disqualify a candidate or party for denying Israel's existence as a Jewish or democratic state or for support of armed struggle, terrorism or an enemy of Israel. Mr Rubenstein has chosen to interpret Mr Bishara's desire for an overhaul of Israeli democracy as a threat to the existence of the state and therefore in breach of the law."