Palestinian politician, philosopher, human rights activist, and novelist.
Azmi Bishara, politician, philosopher, human rights activist and novelist, is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, born in 1956 in Nazareth into a Greek Orthodox family. He, however, is secular in his outlook, and indeed bases his entire political philosophy on the idea of a secular democratic state.
Bishara was first elected to the Israeli Knesset in 1996, after a teaching position at Birzeit University in the West Bank. As part of the National Democratic Assembly in Israel Party (also known as Balad), Bishara has championed the idea that Israel should be a state of all its citizens as opposed to being a Jewish state in which Palestinian citizens are tolerated but not given equal rights and status. His unwavering struggle for equal civil rights has been recognized internationally in his receiving the Averroes (Ibn Rushd) Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2002 and the Global Exchange Human Rights Award in 2003.
Azmi Bishara’s work for equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel and his advocacy of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza has put him on a collision course with various right-wing political groups in the Israeli government.
“What Israel wants to separate itself from is the largest possible number of Palestinians living on the smallest possible area of land,” Bishara has written about the Separation Wall. “The self-rule plans negotiated with Egypt in January 1980, the Oslo Accords, the Camp David proposals, the unilateral withdrawal schemes by Sharon and Olmert, the Geneva initiative by the Zionist Israeli left, and the Separation Wall, are merely different manifestations of such thinking.”
Israel’s Central Elections Committee attempted to disqualify Bishara and his party from running in Israeli national elections for the Sixteenth Knesset, but their decision was overturned by Israel’s Supreme Court and he was reelected. Bishara’s attempts to establish a dialogue with Arab groups in Syria and Lebanon have led several of his fellow Knesset members to call for a criminal investigation of his activities. The safety of his life and the life of his family has sometimes been very precarious due to allegations that his actions have been treasonous since they represented contact with enemy states with whom Israel was still at war.
In the face of the violent attacks against him, Bishara has consistently maintained that he has never advocated violent struggle, but will continue to fight nonviolently for universal civil rights for all the citizens of Israel.