Israeli Arab Knesset member Azmi Bishara caused an uproar last September when he visited Lebanon and Syria at the end of the war and made anti-Israel statements:
Hizbullah’s resistance to Israel has “lifted the spirit of the Arab people,” Balad MKs Azmi Bishara, Jamal Zahalka and Wasal Taha told the [Lebanese] prime minister.
[In Syria,] Bishara expressed support for Syria’s struggle to free “occupied Arab land” and praised Syrian support for “resistance to the occupation.” — JPost
Bishara’s visit was probably illegal, since the Knesset passed a law in 2002 forbidding such visits to enemy nations, after a previous Bishara trip. Now there have been suggestions that Bishara will be prosecuted, and he has left the country, possibly to seek asylum somewhere else.
This is just another aspect of the rapidly growing issue of the relationship of Israel’s Arab citizens to the state. Never totally comfortable living in a Jewish state, the great majority was nevertheless loyal to it. Now many Arabs are beginning to think that their needs can never be met in this context. Some are openly sympathetic with the goals of Israel’s enemies, while others wish to make fundamental changes in the nature of Israel so that it will be some kind of binational or multinational state. Ultimately, these positions may be equivalent:
The turning point was in the formulation of position papers by leading organizations of the Arab community (“Ten Points,” “The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel,” a proposed constitution and the “Haifa Declaration,” which has yet to be officially published). The documents are being woven like an orderly ideological and political doctrine challenging the current character of the State of Israel – the way it views itself, the structure of its government, and its Zionist identity. In practice, these documents lay the ideological foundation for the uprising of the Arab Israelis against their state.
This is a mutiny that, for the time being, is being carried out through entirely legitimate means – submitting petitions to court, developing position papers, initiating research, rallying public opinion. But it paves the way for radicals to act by illegitimate methods. And there have been precedents, including individuals in senior posts in the Jewish community, who violated the law due to ideological motivations (for example, Israel Beer and Markus Klingberg, who spied for the Soviet Union). — Uzi Benziman, Ha’aretz
As is the case with so many other things, Israel is confused about its Arab citizens, wanting to provide full rights for them as a democratic state, while not knowing when dissent crosses the line to treason or when demands for justice cross the line to incitement to overthrow the state.
It’s important for us in the US to understand that Israel is a very different place. Israel is living under massive external threats far beyond those that worry us here. About 20% of the population of Israel (within the 1967 lines) are Arabs. The US can afford to be much more generous in its interpretation of free speech than Israel. And the US is, by definition, a multi-cultural state.
Israel can be a Jewish state and a democratic state, and there is (still) a national consensus among Jews that it should be a Jewish state. I suggest that this should be the guiding concept for the government, both in its decisions about how to deal with dissent and how to explain itself to the world.