Is There a Word in Hebrew for Treason?

Ahmed Tibi is an Arab and the Deputy Speaker of Israel’s Parliament, The Knesset.    As such, he  enjoys a immunity from prosecution for incitement and for making statements which could be interpreted as endangering his country’s security.  Indeed, over the past three years several members of  Tibi’s own party – Balad (the National Democratic Assembly)  – survived the prospect of indictment after making unauthorized trips to enemy states.  Tibi remains as one of the most visible activists advocating the dismantlement of the Jewish State and its replacement with a unitary bi-national state of Arabs and Jews.

In January , 2009, the Knesset Central Election Committee, comprising members of all Knesset factions, voted to disqualify Tibi’s party, Balad,   and the United Arab List-Ta’al — from running in the February 10 elections.  Lawmakers accused the two Arab parties of supporting armed struggle against Israel and seeking to undermine the state’s Jewish and democratic character. They based their measure on a 2002 amendment to the quasi-constitutional Basic Law, which permitted the banning of a Knesset faction if its goals or actions support the “armed struggle” of a terrorist organization or foreign country either implicitly or explicitly.

Suspicion about Tibi’s ties to the country’s adversaries arose  when he registered at the Doha Forum on Democracy, Developent and Free Trade, in Qatar, as leader of the Palestinian delegation. “Israel is an apartheid state,” he said to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni during a session in which she was speaking from the podium. The episode prompted Deputy Foreign Minister Majalli Whbee, a Druze member of Kadima, to say it was “time for Ahmed Tibi to decide which country he represents.”

Resentment has been even stronger toward Balad, which has three Knesset members. Anger is focused mostly on party founder Azmi Bishara, who was investigated by police in 2007 for allegedly assisting Hezbollah in the Second Lebanon War. Between interrogations he left for a meeting in Jordan and has not returned, reportedly because he fears an unfair trial and long imprisonment. He resigned from the chamber in 2007, in a letter submitted to the Israeli embassy in Cairo. He remains head of Balad, reputedly living mainly in Jordan, and communicates with party leaders by phone. He still receives a Knesset pension of around $2,000 a month. A move in the Knesset to stop payments was blocked by the Supreme Court. On January 21, 2009 the Supreme Court of Israel overturned the Committee’s decision by a majority of eight to one.

Tibi continues to remain unfazed by the threat of prosecution.  In fact, he regularly uses the Deputy Speaker’s platform to proudly assert his support for Palestinian nationalism at every opportunity.

He did so again on Friday in the Los Angeles Times.  There he stated that he has no faith in the leader of his own government as a sincere negotiator for peace and condemned Benjamin Netanyahu for his procrastination and indifference to Palestinian suffering.   These were not the words of a Israeli parliamentarian but of an adversary.

“I am not alone in being pessimistic. Most Palestinians are. Young people in particular have been betrayed. A whole generation of Palestinians has grown up watching as talks failed. They have seen deepening colonization rather than freedom.”

Tibi, of course, fails to mention that the ” betrayal” in this instance, came from the Palestinian leaders themselves.  Offered most of their demands at Camp David in  July, 2000, Yasser Arafat launched an armed insurrection that resulted in 1,000 Israeli deaths and nearly 3,500 Palestinian.  The ” Intifada” gained Palestinians nothing and drove whatever was left of the peace process into the ground.

One has to wonder whether any other Arab country would tolerate such words spoken publicly by the Deputy Speaker of its Parliament.  It is a supreme irony that Tibi’s freedom to present such views in the Western press would never be allowed in any of the other countries who are party to the talks, least of all in Mahmoud Abbas’ West Bank where dissent is ruthlessly repressed.

Treason is not a popular word in the English vocabulary.  Very few Western countries have mounted successful cases in the post -war years against citizens who have espoused views or taken actions which have given comfort and aid to the enemy.

But there are countries where  the word ” treason”  really should have some meaning.   Perhaps the Hebrew word for traitor – “Bogged” might begin to take on some of this meaning when the Israeli Supreme Court finally gains the courage to  firmly states that it is illegal for  the country’s own parliamentarians to represent another constituency altogether, while presiding as a peoples’  representative .


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