|Ron Levintal||Majdi Halabi|
This was no boorish or outrageously foolish person standing before us, but rather, a wise and gifted philosopher who could express himself well in more than three languages – highly eloquent, and able to annoy us eloquently.
The significance of Bishara's departure from Israel's political life, and no less importantly, from the Zionist parliament, is that he abandoned Israeli Arabs in favor of too-lofty political caprices. Because we should know this: Azmi Bishara finds no interest in the sewage situation or poverty problems of Arab Israeli villages, but rather, is interested in a hot date with Syria's president, an interview to al-Jazeera, or a quick visit to Saudi Arabia.
Bishara forgot that he was sent to the Knesset by Arab Israelis, who are citizens with voting rights. They elected a representative in order to legislate laws in their favor, represent their views, speak on their behalf, and who knows, God willing, also assume the post of a minister in the Israeli government.
For example, the housing and construction minister, who will then order that the issue of illegal construction in Arab villages be resolved; or an interior minister, who will attempt to make municipal governments, including the Arab ones, more efficient – especially since (and this is something everyone has refrained from saying for long months for fear of being labeled a racist) Arab municipalities hold an abnormal record when it comes to holding back wages.
Yes, even the much talked about strike by the Histadrut labor union federation mostly stemmed from the holding back of wages of Arab municipal workers in local authorities where various village heads manage the local government in a somewhat clannish manner.
Sewage flowing through the heart of an Arab village as a result of the Jewish government's neglect - that's the mission of Bishara and his colleagues. The prevention of Arab-Jewish polarization, a war on the status of Arabic as an official language, a struggle for the Arabs' right to serve in the IDF or a similar civilian body in the framework of a "Civilian Service" in order to empty from substance the argument that Arabs do not deserve rights because they have no obligations to the State. By all means – they should offer to serve, and demand to receive something in return.
Yet all these wars are of no interest to Arab Knesset members. They are scared to be "collaborators." They represent Palestinians, but not those who live here and are armed with blue ID cards, but rather, those residing in Lebanon's and Gaza's refugee camps and armed with irrational Jihad.
Bishara prefers to be chummy with Bashar Assad, including the accompanying media attention, police investigations, and demands to lift his parliamentary immunity, rather than engaging in a real war, which he can even win, for equality in the country, co-existence, and fraternity.
During the last war, he rushed to praise Hizbullah, for example. That is why he and his friends are not viewed as an option here when the time comes to form a government. They are labeled as "extremist" and "daydreamers" and work overtime in order to prove they are indeed like that.
This is the tragedy of Israel's Arabs, who have lost their faith in the political system a long time ago, just like their Jewish brothers. Both groups have no genuine representation. The daily problems bothering them are not addressed by Jewish Knesset members, and regrettably, the same is true for the Arab ones, who are busy with macro political statements and the Palestinian-Jewish struggle.
It is enough to recall Knesset member Ahmad Tibi's previous job and employer in order to understand that he is not moved by the distress of Arabs in Israel, but rather, by that of the Palestinian leader and his subordinates.
BIshara is among the wisest and most intellectual members the Knesset ever saw. His charisma, speeches, richness of expression and presence prevented local activists who are simpler and more down to earth from penetrating the public perception.
His departure, if indeed he plans to depart, leaves the door open for such activists to emerge and attempt to change the image of Arab Knesset members in the Israeli public arena.
The Jews and the Arabs need local Arab leadership occupied with the daily lives of Arab citizens, rather than leaders and politicians that pretend to be elected by the country's citizens in order to speak out against it and meet with its enemies.
This is done on behalf of Arab Israelis, but through my familiar with them it does not reflect them. There are sane Arabs who are interested in improving their lives, coexistence, and integration into the heart of the Israeli consensus. They desperately seek a leadership that would take them there – not to a media-covered visit replete with anti-Israeli statements in Damascus and Amman.
The story of Knesset Member Azmi Bishara is also the story of the entire Israeli Arab community, which is always considered to be a suspect until proven innocent. This is how the minority is treated in the democratic State of Israel: The moment partial or misleading or half-true information regarding Arabs is published, Knesset members immediately speak up and attempt to confirm their prejudices.
They propose bills that would limit the Arab minority and its elected representatives, and use labels such as "traitors," "fifth column" and "Israel haters."
The heated reactions by the right-wing camp to the Bishara affair, just like the rumor mill surrounding his escape and apparent soon-to-come resignation only prove that Israeli society still does not put its faith in the Arab minority, which also has a right for this country.
I would like to make it clear that I do not agree with Dr. Azmi Bishara's views and positions, but I am willing to defend his right to express his version in the framework of the freedom of speech. To my great regret, the Israeli media again fell into the trap of stereotypes and showed a flawed approach to the affair replete with inaccuracies and the presentation of unverified facts.
It is very regrettable that the Israeli press, which is considered to be critical and bent on investigative reporting, fails to stop for a minute and examine the facts thoroughly.
In all matters related to the Arabs, the Israeli Right is only fed by the media. There is no genuine attempt to clarify the real positions prevalent among the Arab public, listen to it, visit its communities without provocations, and examine the distress and the truth from up close.
The media, for its part, feeds this schism and makes it more extreme. Israelis cannot let go of the sense of suspicion and treachery when it comes to discussing the question of the Arab minority. And so, every Arab is a potential traitor, spy, and suicide bomber. There is no faith and no sense of partnership or peaceful coexistence.
The Arab public, which is always accused of sympathizing with the enemy, backing terror, and treason against the Jewish State and its values, does not feel any attachment to the national anthem or flag – and rightfully so. These symbols talk about Jewish and Zionist values, while the Arabs are unable to disconnect from their Arab-Palestinian roots.
Despite this, they do no constitute a danger or a "fifth column." The overwhelming majority of the Arab community is loyal to Israel's values an culture and resides here by choice, rather than by coercion. It is the State itself that prevents their integration, places obstacles in their way, and poses difficulties as a result of prejudice and inexplicable suspicion.
The Israeli experience with the Arab Druze community proves that we can live
together, if we only wish to do so.