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“Citizen Azmi” Without Citizenship?

Wednesday 10 September 2008, by Michel Warshavski

Former Member of the Israeli Knesset, Azmi Bishara, of the Balad Party, is threatened with loss of his Israeli citizenship and a cessasation of his pension payments as a former member of parliament. Long live Israeli democracy! Last week, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that “it is too early” (sic) to rule on the cancellation of former Member of Knesset (MK) Azmi Bishara’s Israeli citizenship and to stop paying him his pension as a former member of parliament. The non-honorable judges requested that the plaintiff, World Likud head Danny Danon, first address another juridical instance and return to the Supreme Court only if his demand is rejected.

Azmi Bishara is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, founder, and for many years chairman, of Balad—The National Democratic Alliance—Party, former member of the Knesset, political activist and a brilliant intellectual. In 2006, he went to Lebanon in order to meet Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, as he did many times before, together with other Arab political leaders and with the full knowledge and de facto green-light of the Israeli authorities. A rightwing (and at times certain leftwing elements played a dirty role too) hysterical campaign against “Bishara’s treason” made the Israeli prosecutor’s office reverse its policy towards these meetings, and decide to charge him retrospectively for “assisting the enemy in war-time.”

Let us start with the pension issue: pension is the private property of the person concerned, for which s/he has paid cash money, every month throughout his or her working years. Taking back the pension is daylight robbery. One can assume that a court in a capitalist system, even if that system defines itself as a “Jewish-Democratic State,” will not allow such an attack against the holy value of private property. But who knows?

The second threat is much more serious. Cancelling citizenship is one of the characteristics of a totalitarian society. The Soviet Union used to do it, as well as the French State under Petain and Nazi Germany, especially concerning Jews. In a democracy, however, citizenship is inalienable. Israel, however, is an unusual case of democracy, a Jewish-democratic State, and as MK Jamal Zahalka often explains with his sense of humor: “it is a democracy for its Jewish citizens and a Jewish state for its Arab citizens.”

No one more than Azmi Bishara, has contributed to the public debate concerning the issue of citizenship and democracy, and the political slogan “Israel must become a state of all its citizens” which was adopted by several progressive lists in their political platform for the national elections, is identified with the name of Azmi Bishara. It is definitely not by accident that the French-Israeli director Simone Bitton has named her film about the unconventional MK "Citizen Bishara", for the leader of Balad is the pioneer of a critical reflection on the nature of the Israeli regime and the necessary conditions to transform it into a democracy worth of the name.

Citizen Azmi is now being threatened with losing his Israeli citizenship, proving with his own personal legal status what he has been arguing for more than two decades—as long as Israel will continue to be a Jewish state, it cannot be “a state of all its citizens,” which is a core defining element of a democratic state.

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