Jewish Discriminators

Why Israel is after me

By Azmi Bishara

The Los Angeles Times
May 3, 2007,0,2351340.story?coll=la-opinion-ri

AZMI BISHARA was a member of the Knesset until his resignation
in April.

Amman, Jordan – I AM A PALESTINIAN from Nazareth, a citizen of
Israel and was, until last month, a member of the Israeli

But now, in an ironic twist reminiscent of France’s Dreyfus
affair – in which a French Jew was accused of disloyalty to
the state – the government of Israel is accusing me of aiding
the enemy during Israel’s failed war against Lebanon in July.

Israeli police apparently suspect me of passing information to
a foreign agent and of receiving money in return. Under
Israeli law, anyone – a journalist or a personal friend – can
be defined as a “foreign agent” by the Israeli security
apparatus. Such charges can lead to life imprisonment or even
the death penalty.

The allegations are ridiculous. Needless to say, Hezbollah –
Israel’s enemy in Lebanon – has independently gathered more
security information about Israel than any Arab Knesset member
could possibly provide. What’s more, unlike those in Israel’s
parliament who have been involved in acts of violence, I have
never used violence or participated in wars. My instruments of
persuasion, in contrast, are simply words in books, articles
and speeches.

These trumped-up charges, which I firmly reject and deny, are
only the latest in a series of attempts to silence me and
others involved in the struggle of the Palestinian Arab
citizens of Israel to live in a state of all its citizens, not
one that grants rights and privileges to Jews that it denies
to non-Jews.

When Israel was established in 1948, more than 700,000
Palestinians were expelled or fled in fear. My family was
among the minority that escaped that fate, remaining instead
on the land where we had long lived. The Israeli state,
established exclusively for Jews, embarked immediately on
transforming us into foreigners in our own country.

For the first 18 years of Israeli statehood, we, as Israeli
citizens, lived under military rule with pass laws that
controlled our every movement. We watched Jewish Israeli towns
spring up over destroyed Palestinian villages.

Today we make up 20% of Israel’s population. We do not drink
at separate water fountains or sit at the back of the bus. We
vote and can serve in the parliament. But we face legal,
institutional and informal discrimination in all spheres of

More than 20 Israeli laws explicitly privilege Jews over
non-Jews. The Law of Return, for example, grants automatic
citizenship to Jews from anywhere in the world. Yet
Palestinian refugees are denied the right to return to the
country they were forced to leave in 1948. The Basic Law of
Human Dignity and Liberty – Israel’s “Bill of Rights” –
defines the state as “Jewish” rather than a state for all its
citizens. Thus Israel is more for Jews living in Los Angeles
or Paris than it is for native Palestinians.

Israel acknowledges itself to be a state of one particular
religious group. Anyone committed to democracy will readily
admit that equal citizenship cannot exist under such

Most of our children attend schools that are separate but
unequal. According to recent polls, two-thirds of Israeli Jews
would refuse to live next to an Arab and nearly half would not
allow a Palestinian into their home.

I have certainly ruffled feathers in Israel. In addition to
speaking out on the subjects above, I have also asserted the
right of the Lebanese people, and of Palestinians in the West
Bank and Gaza Strip, to resist Israel’s illegal military
occupation. I do not see those who fight for freedom as my

This may discomfort Jewish Israelis, but they cannot deny us
our history and identity any more than we can negate the ties
that bind them to world Jewry. After all, it is not we, but
Israeli Jews who immigrated to this land. Immigrants might be
asked to give up their former identity in exchange for equal
citizenship, but we are not immigrants.

During my years in the Knesset, the attorney general indicted
me for voicing my political opinions (the charges were
dropped), lobbied to have my parliamentary immunity revoked
and sought unsuccessfully to disqualify my political party
from participating in elections – all because I believe Israel
should be a state for all its citizens and because I have
spoken out against Israeli military occupation. Last year,
Cabinet member Avigdor Lieberman – an immigrant from Moldova –
declared that Palestinian citizens of Israel “have no place
here,” that we should “take our bundles and get lost.” After I
met with a leader of the Palestinian Authority from Hamas,
Lieberman called for my execution.

The Israeli authorities are trying to intimidate not just me
but all Palestinian citizens of Israel. But we will not be
intimidated. We will not bow to permanent servitude in the
land of our ancestors or to being severed from our natural
connections to the Arab world. Our community leaders joined
together recently to issue a blueprint for a state free of
ethnic and religious discrimination in all spheres. If we turn
back from our path to freedom now, we will consign future
generations to the discrimination we have faced for six

Americans know from their own history of institutional
discrimination the tactics that have been used against civil
rights leaders. These include telephone bugging, police
surveillance, political delegitimization and criminalization
of dissent through false accusations. Israel is continuing to
use these tactics at a time when the world no longer tolerates
such practices as compatible with democracy.

Why then does the U.S. government continue to fully support a
country whose very identity and institutions are based on
ethnic and religious discrimination that victimize its own


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