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A prominent Arab citizen of Israel is under investigation, suspected of aiding Israel's enemies during wartime. Azmi Bishara, a former member of the Israeli parliament, says he didn't do anything wrong and that the charges against him are politically motivated.
NPR's Linda Grandstein has that story.
LINDA GRANDSTEIN: The allegations against Bishara were made public after a gag order on the police investigation was partially lifted. Bishara is accused of aiding Israel's enemies during last summer's war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. He's also suspected of maintaining contacts with a foreign agent and receiving large sums of money in violation of Israel's money laundering laws.
Israeli authorities questioned Bishara twice over the past few months, and police say he had promised to show up for additional interrogations. But he had abruptly left Israel a month ago, and has been traveling around the Arab world ever since. Last Sunday, he showed up at the Israeli embassy in Cairo and announced he was resigning from parliament. He said he had no immediate plans to return to Israel.
Mr. AZMI BISHARA (Former Member, Knesset): (Through translator) The main problem is that if I return to the country to tender my resignation, I won't be able to leave for one, two or three years because of the investigations and trials. Even if I'm eventually acquitted, it will take at least three years.
GRADSTEIN: But Bishara says he wants to return to Israel in the future.
Mr. BISHARA: (Through translator) Eventually, I will, of course, go back. The exact timing of the return and how it will take place is something that concerns several brothers in the Arab world and inside Israel with whom I consulted to decide the best way to contribute to the pan-Arab democratic and national work in general.
GRADSTEIN: After the charges became public today, Bishara told Al-Jazeera that the Israeli government is trying to scare him. Jamal Zahalka, a lawmaker from Bishara's party, told Israel television that Bishara is a victim.
Mr. JAMAL ZAHALKA (Member, Knesset): (Arabic spoken)
GRADSTEIN: This is a political assassination attempt, he said, Mr. Bishara says he wants to come back, but he doesn't want to give in to a system that is trying to destroy him.
The fifty-year-old Bishara, a Christian from Nazareth in northern Israel, has been a member of Israel's parliament for more than 10 years. He angered many in Israel for speaking out in support of Syria's president, Bashar Assad, and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Two men, most Israelis see as enemies. He's also spoken out in favor of Palestinian rights and advocated replacing Israel as a Jewish state with a bi-national state that would include Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank in Gaza.
The charges against Bishara are likely to exacerbate tensions between the Jewish majority and the 20 percent Arab minority in Israel. One hard-line Israeli parliament member, Yisrael al-Dad(ph), said that Bishara and others of what he called this Fifth Column should be put on trial. But Nadia Hilou, another parliament member from the center-left Labor Party and herself an Arab citizen of Israel, said it's important to remember that most Israeli-Arabs are loyal to the state. The court said it would release further details of the accusations against Bishara next week.
Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.
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