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Azmi Bishara (Arabic: عزمي بشارة listen (help·info), Hebrew: עַזְמִי בִשַארָה listen (help·info), born 22 July 1956, Nazareth) is an Arab public intellectual, political philosopher and author. Bishara, a Palestinian from the Upper Galilee, is presently the general director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies and the chair of the board of trustees of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies. He lives in self-exile in Doha since 2006.
Bishara in Carthage Presidential Palace, 2014
|Date of birth||22 July 1956|
|Place of birth||Nazareth, Israel|
|Knessets||14, 15, 16, 17|
|Faction represented in Knesset|
Previously, he was a member of the Israeli legislature, the Knesset. Bishara won election as a member of the Balad Party, a group which represents the interests of the Arab citizens of Israel, and of which he was a founder.
Following visits to Lebanon and Syria in the wake of the 2006 Lebanon War, Bishara became the subject of an Israeli criminal investigation for acts of alleged treason and espionage. Bishara was suspected of supplying targeting information to Hezbollah on strategic areas in Israel to attack with rockets, and allegedly received hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash through money changers in return. He was subsequently stripped of his parliamentary immunity; he fled Israel and has not returned since. Bishara has denied the allegations and says he will not return to Israel as he believes he will not receive a fair trial.
Bishara has since established himself in Qatar, where, in addition to his academic and research endeavors, he is a public intellectual active in the pan-Arab sphere. He also continues to write, as well as to issue new editions of some of his earlier works, including a 2012 re-publication of one of his most well-known Arabic books, On Civil Society.
Bishara helped to establish the Al-Araby Al-Jadeed (The New Arab) media conglomerate, which includes a newspaper with online and print editions and an online-only English version, as well as a television station, which launched in 2014.
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Early life and education
Bishara was born in Nazareth into a Palestinian Christian family, where his mother was a school teacher and his father a health inspector and trade unionist with connections to the Communist party. Azmi Bishara siblings include political commentator Marwan Bishara and noted chef, cookbook author and restaurateur Rawia Bishara. According to The Guardian, the family's history goes back hundreds of years to a village north of Nazareth. Bishara attended Nazareth Baptist school, where he established the first National Committee of Arab High School Students, becoming its chairman in 1974.
He studied at Haifa University and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where in 1976 he founded and headed the Arab Student Union. In the same year, he was instrumental in setting up the Arab Student Committees and Campus Lands Defense Committee against the occupation of the Israeli-occupied territories. At the time he was a member of the Israeli Communist Party (Rakah, now part of Hadash), and supported an Internationalist-Marxist political agenda.
Upon completing his PhD in philosophy at Humboldt University of Berlin (then East Germany) in 1986, he joined the faculty of Birzeit University in the West Bank. He headed the Philosophy and Cultural Studies Department for two years, from 1994-96. He has also worked as a senior researcher at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute.
Bishara is one of the founders of the Society for Arab Culture and of Muwatin, the Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy founded by a group of scholars and academics in 1992. He also serves on the board of trustees of the Arab Democracy Foundation.
Bishara is presently the general director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Doha, Qatar, also known as the Doha Institute, and a member of its executive board. He is an important adviser to former Qatar emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and to his successor, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad.
In 1995, Bishara was at the head of a group of young Israeli Palestinian intellectuals who founded the political party National Democratic Assembly, Brit Le'umit Demokratit in Hebrew, short Balad. In 1996 he was elected to the fourteenth Knesset (first seating 17 June 1996) on the Balad-Hadash list.
Bishara was the first Arab citizen of Israel to run for Prime Minister in the 1999 election, but dropped out of the race two days before election day. In the end, only Ehud Barak and Benyamin Netanyahu were left as final candidates, with Barak emerging victorious.
In 2003, the Israeli Supreme Court "overturned Central Elections Committee decisions to disqualify MKs Ahmad Tibi and Azmi Bishara, and Bishara's party, Balad, from running in the elections to the 16th Knesset." The CEC's decision was supported by Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein, "who went so far as to submit his own petition to the CEC against the party and its leader." "The CEC ruled that Bishara and Balad sought to destroy the Jewish character of the state and supported the armed struggle against it."
In 2007, Bishara was questioned by police on suspicion of aiding and passing information to the enemy during wartime, contacts with a foreign agent, and receiving large sums of money transferred from abroad. Bishara denied the accusations and said they were part of an effort to punish him because he had opposed Israel's invasion of Lebanon the preceding summer.
Soon after, he fled Israel and resigned from the Knesset. stating he could not receive a fair trial there. In February 2011, the Israeli parliament passed the so-called "Bishara bill", which stripped Bishara of his parliamentary benefits, including the pension he had received as a former Knesset member.
2001 Visit to Syria
Bishara visited Qardaha, Syria in 2001, and gave a speech at a memorial ceremony for Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and other Arab leaders, among them the secretary-general of Hezbollah and the vice-president of Iran, where "he called for promoting the armed struggle ("The resistance") against Israel". He was accused in Israel of expressing support for Hezbollah, and upon his return to Israel was charged with incitement to violence and support for a terrorist organization, as defined by Israel's Prevention of Terror Ordinance. After Bishara's visit to Syria, the Knesset passed a law forbidding MKs from visiting enemy states.
2006 Israel–Lebanon War
During the 2006 Israel–Lebanon War Bishara criticized the Israeli government for not providing bomb shelters to Arab areas in Israel's north, and said Israel was using Arabs as "human shields" by putting artillery units next to Israeli Arab villages towns and villages. Bishara also predicted that, because many Arab Israelis opposed the war or applauded Hezbollah's surprisingly strong resistance to the Israeli invasion, there would be negative repercussions for the community when the war ended. "We will have to pick up the bill on this," he said. "If [the Israelis] lose they will turn against us, if they win they will turn against us."
In September 2006, shortly after the conclusion of the Lebanon war, Bishara again visited Syria and in a speech warned of the possibility that Israel might launch "a preliminary offensive in more than one place, in a bid to overcome the internal crisis in the country and in an attempt to restore its deterrence capability."
Bishara and members of his party also visited Lebanon, where they told the Lebanese prime minister that Hezbullah's resistance to Israel during the preceding summer's war had "lifted the spirit of the Arab people". Soon thereafter at Interior Minister Roni Bar-On's request, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz ordered a criminal investigation against Balad MKs Azmi Bishara, Jamal Zahalka and Wassel Taha over the visit to Syria.
Resignation from Knesset
On 22 April 2007, Bishara resigned from the Knesset via the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, following a police investigation into his foreign contacts, and accusations of allegedly aiding the enemy during wartime, passing information on to the enemy and contacts with a foreign agent, as well as laundering money received from foreign sources. Bishara has denied the allegations, and claims he is staying abroad because he believes he wouldn't receive a fair trial.
Following a petition by Haaretz and other media outlets to lift a gag order preventing publication of information relating to the specific charges being laid against Azmi Bishara, on 2 May 2007 the Petah Tikva Magistrate's Court announced the gag order would be fully lifted. One week prior, the court had allowed only for the fact that Bishara is suspected of assisting the enemy in wartime, transmitting information to the enemy, contact with a foreign agent and money-laundering to be publicized.
Bishara is accused of giving Hezbollah information on strategic locations in Israel that should be attacked with rockets during the 2006 Lebanon War, in exchange for huge amounts of money. Wiretaps were authorized by the Israeli High Court of Justice. Investigators say that Bishara recommended long-range rocket attacks which would serve Hezbollah's cause.
According to court documents "Bishara was questioned twice in the case and during the last encounter he told interrogators that he intends to leave Israel for a couple of days. He said he would attend a third questioning session soon upon his return to Israel".
Bishara addressed a rally of supporters in Nazareth via 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."
Said Nafa, Bishara's replacement in the Knesset, commented on the charges leading up to Bishara's resignation, saying, "There were many instances in which the Shin Bet tried to set people up ... They're just trying to behead a prominent Arab leader. They will fail." On 14 February 2011, Bishara's pension as a former Knesset member was canceled through a new law. The law was specially written to handle his case.
According to the Financial Times, Bishara has been involved in the formation of the Syrian National Coalition, the main Syrian opposition umbrella group, which is supported by Qatar. Bishara reportedly served as an adviser to Qatar's then emir and crown prince, who succeeded his father in late June 2013. In July 2011, Bishara reportedly said that Assad could have stayed in power had he made the reforms people wanted, writing: "The regime chose not to change, and so the people will change it."
Bishara is married and has two children. According to The Jerusalem Post, he received a kidney transplant in March 1997 at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. According to his website, he is a citizen of Qatar.
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