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Bishara, Azmi (Beshara, Bichara; 1956–)

BISHARA, AZMI (Beshara, Bichara; 1956–)

Palestinian Israeli. Born in 1956 in Nazareth, the son of a union leader, Azmi Bishara joined the leftist party HADASH while he was a student at Hebrew University. In 1974 he created the National Committee of Arab High School Students. In 1985 he was awarded a doctorate in philosophy from Humboldt University in East Berlin. He went on to become a professor at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, where he taught philosophy and political history. Between 1988 and 1991 he was also associated with the Van Leer Institute, a prestigious research center in Jerusalem.

Running on the HADASH list in the parliamentary elections of 29 May 1991, Bishara won a seat in the Knesset. In April 1992, advocating equality between Jews and Arabs, he founded a movement called the Alliance for Equality. He was reelected in May 1996, running again on the HADASH list, which won five seats in the Knesset. At the end of the following December, he announced he would run for the post of prime minister in the 2000 elections. The first Arab candidate for the post, Bishara ran against Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Yitzhak Mordechai, and Benny Begin. He also headed the electoral list of his party, Balad (National Democratic Assembly), with Ahmad Tibi of the Arab Movement for Change (AMC) in second place. The main themes of his campaign were "identity" demands of the Arab Israelis who wanted to be better integrated into Israeli society. But on 14 May, just before the vote in the general elections, Bishara withdrew his candidacy for the post of prime minister, urging his supporters to cast their ballots for the Israel Labor Party. Balad won two seats in the Knesset, one of which was allotted to Bishara.

In November 2000 he went to Damascus, where he held talks with President Bashshar al-Asad. One of the results of this visit was the organization of a trip that allowed Arab-Israeli families to see their relatives who were refugees in Syria. In June 2001 the Knesset opened an inquiry about Bishara, following remarks he had made that were thought to be antiIsraeli, on the occasion of Syrian president Hafiz al-Asad's death. Two months later the same charges were leveled against another Arab-Israeli representative in the Knesset, Taleb al-Sanaa. On 7 November 2001 the Knesset lifted the parliamentary immunity of Azmi Bishara, accusing him of incitement to terrorism and organizing travel to Syria, a country at war with Israel.

In 2002 Bishara and Ahmad Tibi were barred from running in the next election on the grounds that they had supported "terrorists" by denouncing the Israeli assault on Jenin that spring, but the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the ban shortly before the election in January 2003. Both Tibi and Bishara were returned to the Knesset.

SEE ALSO Asad, Bashshar al-; Asad, Hafiz al-; Democratic Front for Peace and Equality; Tibi, Ahmad.

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