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Azmi Bishara
Azmi Bishara, 2013.JPG
Azmi Bishara in 2013
14th Knesset
In office
June 1996 – May 1999
15th Knesset
In office
July 1999 – January 2003
16th Knesset
In office
February 2003 – March 2006
17th Knesset
In office
March 2006 – April 22, 2007 (resigned)
Personal details
Born 22 July 1956 (1956-07-22) (age 65)
Nazareth
Political party Balad

Azmi Bishara (Arabic: عزمي بشارة , Hebrew: עזמי בשארה, born July 22, 1956), was an Arab Israeli politician. He is a Palestinian and an Israeli citizen. Bishara was a member of the Israeli Knesset (MK) as a member of the Balad party from 1996 until resigning (stopped being a member) in April 2007. He is also the leader of that political party.

His resignation happened during news that the Israeli security services said he had committed many crimes. The news at that time did not say what the crimes were. It was later said that the crimes were treason and espionage. Because he resigned, Bishara lost his parliamentary immunity. He was not in Israel when this happened and chose not to go back to Israel at that time. He has said that he does want to return.

Early life

Bishara was born in Nazareth. He created the first National Committee of Arab High School Students. In 1974, he was in charge of that group. In 1976, he helped create the Committee for the Defense of Arab Lands and the first National Arab Student Union.

In the 1970s, Bishara studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was the head of the Arab Student Union and was active in the Jewish-Arab student group Campus. At the time, Bishara was a member of the Israeli Communist party Rakah (now part of Hadash), and supported an Internationalist-Marxist political agenda.

Upon finishing his Ph.D in philosophy at Humboldt University of Berlin in 1986, he joined the faculty of Bir Zeit University,. He was in charge of the Philosophy and Cultural Studies Department for two years, from 1994 to 1996. He has also worked as a senior researcher at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem.

Political career

Bishara was a Knesset member from the fourteenth Knesset (first seating June 17 1996) until April 22, 2007. He was the most important member of his political party, the National Democratic Assembly (NDA-Balad) in the Knesset during this time.

Bishara was the first Arab citizen of Israel to try to become Prime Minister. He tried to become Prime Minister in the 1999 election, but stopped two days before election day.

The Central Elections Committee (CEC) said that MKs Ahmad Tibi and Azmi Bishara, as well as Bishara's party, Balad, could not be elected for the 16th Knesset in 2003. Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein agreed with this and had also tried to stop them from being allowed to be elected. The CEC said that they believed that Bishara and Balad wanted "to destroy the Jewish character of the state and supported the armed struggle against it". The Israeli Supreme Court said this was wrong and that they could be elected.

Visits to Syria

Bishara went to Syria in 2001. He gave a speech at a memorial ceremony for Syrian President Hafez al-Assad where he showed support for Hezbollah. When he got back to Israel, the government said that he was guilty of trying to cause violence and supporting a terrorist organization, as defined by Israel's Prevention of Terror Ordinance. Bishara went back to Syria in September 2006. While he was there, he said that Israel might attack Syria in more than one place to try to fix problems in Israel and show other countries that it would not be a good idea to attack it. He also went to Lebanon. He told the Lebanese prime minister that Hizbullah fighting against Israel has "lifted the spirit of the Arab people". Soon after this, Interior Minister Roni Bar-On asked Attorney General Menachem Mazuz see if Balad MKs Azmi Bashara, Jamal Zahalka and Wassel Taha were guilty of any crimes because of their visit to Syria. He did this because after Bashara's visit to Syria in 2001, the Knesset made a law that said that MKs could not go to any enemy countries.

Resignation from Knesset and Suspicion of High Treason

On April 22, 2007, Bishara resigned from the Knesset at the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, Egypt. He did this after a police investigation of foreign people he knew and talk with. It was also said that he helped the enemy during wartime, gave information on to the enemy and laundered money he got from foreign sources. It was said that he might stay out of Israel because he did not want to go to jail and because it would end his political career." He also said that he believed he would not get a fair trial.

Court documents say that Bishara was questioned two times about the case. During the second time, he said that he was going to leave Israel for a couple of days. He said he would attend a third questioning session when he got back to Israel. Bishara talked to a group of supporters in Nazareth using a telephone in April 2007. He told the thousands of supporters that, "My guilt is that I love my homeland... our intellect and our words are our weapons. Never in my life did I draw a gun or kill anyone."

Awards

Bishara was awarded the “Ibn Rushd 'Averroes' Prize for Freedom of Thought” for the year 2002 in Berlin, and the Global Exchange Human Rights Award for the year 2003 in San Francisco.

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