Friday, April 27, 2007

Bishara, Dreyfus, Simpson

When history writes the story of Azmi Bishara, the focus may not be on what he did or didn't do, but rather on the effects his case had on Israeli politics and society.

Predicting what might happen can be a dangerous game, and for all we know now the former Balad MK might just remain in exile forever. I think, however, that there are grounds for concern that his potential arrest and trial could become one of those events that both highlights and consolidates existing social differences between racial, ethnic, and/or religious communities. The title to this post mentioned Alfred Dreyfus and O.J. Simpson, two very different figures whose cases had exactly that effect. The Dreyfus Affair, of course, has the added importance of stimulating the growth of a political movement - Zionism, as fate would have it - since it was while observing it that Theodor Herzl and perhaps others concluded that they needed a Jewish homeland.

Because of his opinions on what Israeli politics should look like and his relations with enemies of Israel such as Hizbullah and Syria. I suspect this post by Imshin, in which the conditional "if these allegations turn out to be true" seems like a formality, is the attitude taken by lots of Israelis. When you step back and look at the whole of Israeli society, one which has made the anti-Arab Yisrael Beineinu the fifth largest party in the Knesset, you can see the prospect of Bishara becoming a symbol of prejudice against Palestinian-Israelis. It would give Esterina Tartman something to do, even if most Israelis, such as Imshin, focused just on Bishara.

I haven't seen any reaction yet from the Arab sector, but it wouldn't surprise me if many of them saw these charges as simply a state response to his politics and contacts, and not from any actual wrongdoing. Didn't Prime Minister Olmert's office recently tell Balad that Shin Bet would act against even legal threats to "Israel's Jewish and democratic character?" Arabs in Israel wouldn't need to support Bishara politically to feel he is being wronged legally, and in any case I've always felt it must be weird for them to be expected to display loyalty to the idea that they will be a minority and a "demographic threat" in perpetuity. Their support for a man Jewish Israelis are convinced is a traitor would only lead to greater aggregate levels of conviction among Jewish Israelis that they are a potential fifth column and a strategic danger.

This, I think, is the danger people should be aware of regardless of the facts in this case, and it may in fairness be the answer to Imshin's musing about why he was allowed to leave, though this militates agains that. Again, I have no idea what to make of the charges, but fear his trial and and potential imprisonment could do more damage to Israeli democracy than any betrayed military secrets ever could.

UPDATE: Ha'aretz has a strong editorial questioning, among other things, what national security secrets Bishara could possibly have known.

UPDATE: Richard Silverstein is also worth reading.



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