To tell you the truth, I wanted to write about the Bishara affair for quite some time, to say that I feel there's something wrong with the whole deal; I don't believe the Shin Bet, and I believe that a red line has been crossed in our relationship with elected Arab officials.
I wanted to say all this, but I was afraid, because how would I know? Did I see the classified information? Did I hear the information revealed through phone-tapping? Do I know exactly what they found out there?
They are talking about Bishara receiving money in exchange for classified defense information handed over to Hizbullah during wartime. If that's true, that's very grave. I may end up writing something in favor of Azmi Bishara here and ultimately see unequivocal proof that the man indeed committed treason.
I decided to overcome the fear and write. For too long we have allowed what is referred to as "classified security considerations" to scare us. Too often the public debate had been silenced because of secret evidence that nobody saw, but security officials who waved it in our faces promised that it included clear-cut proof of a grave offence.
Azmi Bishara was a Knesset member. A legitimate, publicly elected official. If there is proof, it should be submitted immediately. We cannot treat a Knesset member as if he was some kind of small-time snitch. Besides, the time has come to overcome the fear and say what appeared quite clear from the start: I do not believe that Bishara handed over intelligence information to the enemy.
First of all, in order to hand over intelligence information, the traitor must possess such information. Does anyone believe Bishara knew something that was not published in the press? Does anyone think that any security official ever handed him sensitive information? That he has access to such information? After all, to this day Arab political representatives are kept away from any location that has sensitive information. For years, the right to send a representative to the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee was based on the following formula: A party had to have a number of Knesset members that is equal to one more than the largest Arab party…
Moreover, we are told, the Shin Bet was eavesdropping on Bishara. Had intelligence information, in the clearest form of what this means, been provided, it is clear Bishara would have been arrested on the spot. It is clear that he would not have been allowed to exit the country.
The interpretation according to which he was allowed to leave because he was a Knesset member is ridiculous: His phones were bugged despite him being a Knesset member, yet he was allowed to leave the country because he is a Knesset member? Where is the logic in that? It is likelier that the taped conversations did not provide clear-cut proof that Bishara handed over intelligence information to the enemy.
And had Bishara not handed over information, what else could he have provided? I'm guessing that he talked politics, provided estimates, commentary, and views. How should we address such conversation during wartime? Here we are dealing with a very sensitive question: What is the legitimate boundary of contact between an elected Arab official and hostile Arab elements? What was included in Bishara's conversation with Hizbullah?
I have no accurate information regarding what was said there. I am also not overly excited about conversations with the enemy while missiles were landing here. It would be proper for even such a controversial Arab Knesset member to display certain solidarity with his country of residence. Yet nobody should be put on trial for bad taste.
On the other hand, the interpretation that views such talks as treason is a very dangerous one. Arab Knesset members serve as a very important and authentic mouthpiece for their constituents in the Knesset. It may be unpleasant to hear their words, but it's necessary. In the framework of their job, they represent the constituency that elected them not only before the State of Israel's institutions, but also in the world, and particularly in the Arab world. This is their role. They were elected for that purpose. This is how it works in a democracy.
Azmi Bishara was the most fluent and challenging Arab-Israeli spokesperson in recent years. Silencing him and making him run away from Israel not only constitutes the crossing of a red line – it is also an idiotic act: There is an attempt here to make the difficult political and ideological argument with Bishara shallower, and bring it back to a security argument like we used to have when Israeli-Arab communities were under a military administration.
Instead of facing him at the Knesset, security officials brought the argument back to the interrogation cells. And so, we reverted to the classic role played by Arab-Israelis: Not partners for dialogue, but rather, mere enemies. Not partners, but rather, mere traitors. Not people that should be convinced, but rather, mere Arabs that must be imprisoned.