Israeli Knesset Committee Strips Arab Member of Immunity
The Israeli Knesset House Committee voted Monday to strip MK Azmi Bishara of his parliamentary immunity, reported the Tel Aviv-based Haaretz.
The request, submitted by Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein, opens way for trying Bishara (Balad-National Democratic Alliance) on charges of declaring support for terrorist organizations and assisting in arranging illegal visits to Syria by Israeli citizens.
Rubinstein has filed two separate indictments against Bishara. The first is for remarks made by Bishara on two separate occasions - at the Umm Al Fahm rally and at the Hafez Assad memorial ceremony in Damascus this summer, in which he allegedly praised the Lebanse resistance movement, Hizbollah.
He also allegedly encouraged others, especially the Palestinians, to emulate Hizbollah's attacks on Israel during the 22-year occupation of south Lebanon, which ended in May 2000.
Bishara emphasized that he was making a distinction between the killing of innocent civilians and legitimate opposition to occupation, according to Haaretz.
The draft indictment charges Bishara with praising violence and supporting a terrorist organization, in violation of the Prevention of Terror Ordinance.
The committee chairman, MK Yossi Katz (Labor) said the demand to lift Bishara's immunity on grounds of supporting a terrorist organization should be rejected, as it was a breach of the right to freedom of speech for Knesset members, and that MK immunity prevented them from being to brought to trial for expressing an opinion.
Bishara claims his statements were made as part of his role as a member of Knesset, and are therefore covered by the essential immunity framework that cannot be lifted. According to Bishara, the indictment against him is an attempt to redraw the democratic boundaries in Israel.
The second indictment is for organizing illegal trips to Syria for Israeli Arabs. Although Bishara can travel to Syria legally due to his diplomatic passport, it is against the law for ordinary citizens to visit a country with which Israel is at war without a special permit. Bishara, despite arguing that the visits were for a legitimate humanitarian purpose (allowing Israeli Arabs to visit Syrian relatives), never attempted to obtain permits for the trips.
"Both indictments pose a large question mark over Israel's pretensions to democracy," Bishara said at the time Rubinstein made his decision. "If the first indictment [for incitement] comes to court, the discussion will have to revolve around the nature of the occupation and the right to resist occupation. And only heartless bureaucrats could have drafted the second indictment, in which they want to put me on trial for a humanitarian act of the highest degree."
However, Rubinstein decided to close a third case, in which Bishara allegedly attacked policemen carrying out their duties during a demonstration by Arab-Israeli students in occupied Jerusalem, according to previous reports – Albawaba.com
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