Azmi Bishara’s Apologia in the Los Angeles Times

In an apologia published by the Los Angeles Times on May 3 (“Why Israel is after me”), fugitive Israeli-Arab parliamentarian, Azmi Bishara, likens himself to Alfred Dreyfus, the French Jewish army officer falsely accused of betraying his country by anti-Semitic fellow officers. But Bishara is not a modern day Dreyfus. Bishara is a privileged member of the Israeli parliament who openly cavorts with avowed enemies of the Jewish state and has conducted a campaign of lies and misinformation in order to stigmatize Israel as a pariah state.

Accused of engaging in treason, Bishara defends himself from all charges claiming, “I have never used violence or participated in wars. My instruments of persuasion, in contrast, are simply words in books, articles and speeches.” His protestations of innocence glosses over previous activities and he dismisses as ridiculous the current charges against him:

* Only weeks after Israel had fought a war with Syrian-backed Hezbollah, Bishara visited Syria, a state officially at war with Israel, and warned its leaders that Israel planned to launch an attack against them. He also declared: “We are Syria’s allies and will continue to be in contact with it on the national level, through our well-known views.”

Fellow party member and Knesset member, Jamal Zahalka confirmed that the mission
“was aimed at expressing solidarity with Syria, as well as discussing the recent developments in the region, particularly following the wild Israeli aggression against Lebanon.” (Ynet, Sept. 9, 2006)

* He is alleged to have provided advice to Hezbollah during the war last summer, and to have handed over classified material on the Israeli army. Material he had access to due to his being a member of parliament. He is also alleged to have received “hundreds of thousands of dollars” from an unspecified country via Jordan (New York Times, May 3, 2007).

Deflecting scrutiny of his actions, Bishara portrays Israel as a racist state where even a parliamentarian like himself is subject to an out of control security apparatus. On April 20, 2007, the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv carried an incisive piece by noted writer, Ben Dror Yemini, that demolishes Bishara’s charges against Israel and reveals the hypocrisy that lies behind them.

In “The trap of self-delusion,” Ben Dror Yemini addresses Bishara’s denial of Israel’s right to advocate a selective doctrine of Jewish right of return and debunks the smear that Israel is an apartheid regime.

Paraphrasing Yemini concerning the charge of the racist nature of the selective right of return:

* The Jewish right of return was established by the UN in 1947. The Palestinians would have had that same right in a Palestinian state, if the Arabs hadn’t rejected it.

* The concept of a country instituting immigration policies to maintain its ethnic-cultural character is widely recognized as legitimate (Dror Yemini cites the declaration of the Venice Commission on behalf of the Council of Europe, which recognized the connection between a country with an ethnic majority to minority groups of the same origin in other countries). Many European states, including Germany, Ireland, Norway and others give preference on the basis of ethnicity. Egypt describes itself as an “Arab Republic” and its constitution states “Islam is the state religion.” Saudi Arabia and other Arab states practice religious and ethnic exclusivity with regard to citizenship. Why is Israel alone denied this right?

* The abysmal record of “multicultural states” consisting of substantial Muslim populations is a practical consideration. Think of Sudan, Lebanon, and even Iraq, where the differences are between different branches of Islam. The situation is even worse for minority groups in predominately Muslim countries.

* Bishara describes the flight of 700,000 Palestinians. In other situations where far larger numbers of refugees were created, like the vast population exchanges between India and Pakistan, population exchange was accepted. Israel absorbed a similar number of Jews from Arab lands, but the Arabs refused to find a solution in order to allow the problem to fester.

Paraphrasing Yemini concerning the charge of discrimination and apartheid:

* Differences in per capita income between Israeli Arab and Jewish households can be explained by the fact that Arabs tend to be younger, women are far less likely to work (only 13% of Muslims, versus 53% of Jews), and Arab families tend to be larger. Jewish populations with similar characteristics, like the ultra-orthodox, are no better off than Arabs.

* Israeli Arabs are far more similar to the majority Jewish population in educational attainment, employment, rate of poverty, and earnings than are Muslim populations to the majority populations in European countries within which they reside. For example,
in Israel, the Jewish unemployment rate is 9 percent, the Arab rate is 16 percent. In Germany, the unemployment rate of the general population is 10 percent, the Muslim rate 20 percent, in Britain, the rate is 5 percent versus percent and in France, 9 percent versus 24 percent and Belgium, 7 percent versus 38 percent.

* Average Israeli educational attainment is 12.6 years, for Arabs it is 11.2 years.

* Life expectancy for Israeli Jews is 79.7 years, for Arabs it is 76 years. This is higher than in any of the surrounding Arab states.

* Israeli Arab literacy is 94%, significantly higher than Egypt 71 percent, Syria 80 percent or Jordan 90 percent.

* The poor status of women in Muslim society is the primary reason the differences between Israeli and Arab household incomes and this is reflected not only in Israel, but throughout the Arab world, where women’s salaries are a fraction of men’s, ranging from just 15 percent in Saudi Arabia to 33 percent in Syria. In Israel the comparable figure is 64 percent.

* Yemini notes that despite the allegations of apartheid and discrimination by Bishara and others, the proportion of Israeli Arabs who emigrate is very low, despite their freedom to do so.

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