- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 22, 2007

JERUSALEM — A prominent Israeli Arab lawmaker who has befriended some of Israel’s staunchest enemies announced his resignation from parliament yesterday, weeks after leaving the country while under investigation by Israeli police.

Police said last week that they were investigating Azmi Bishara, a fiery communist lawmaker, but a court barred them from giving any details of the charges. The gag order was extended yesterday until Wednesday, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Mr. Bishara, who for years has been a leading voice for Israel’s Arab citizens, has said he is being persecuted for his strident criticism of the Jewish state.

“I have my own political, ideological and leadership stature. I will not comply with an investigation conducted this way,” Mr. Bishara told Al Jazeera television as he announced his resignation in Cairo.

He told the Arabic news channel that he was resigning to prevent his opponents from stripping him of parliamentary immunity and making a spectacle of the case.

“Now there are new rules for the game in which I define the limits,” he said.

Mr. Bishara’s office said he tendered his resignation at Israel’s embassy in Egypt.

Mr. Bishara, who holds a doctorate in philosophy and has been a member of parliament since 1996, denied that he fled Israel because of the investigation. He said his departure one month ago was for a family vacation and a lecture tour in Arab countries.

He told Al Jazeera that he would return to Israel, but was delaying his arrival because of “many meetings and commitments” abroad. He did not say when he intended to return.

Mr. Bishara, 50, leads the National Democratic Assembly, an Arab party with a nationalist platform and three members in Israel’s 120-seat parliament. Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population.

Mr. Bishara has come under fire for his frequent visits to Syria and Lebanon. His Jewish colleagues in parliament have frequently accused him of incitement against Israel for calling on Arabs around the world to support the Palestinians in their struggle against Israel.

Israelis were shocked when on one of his trips to Syria, Mr. Bishara sat next to the Hezbollah leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, at a memorial service for the late Syrian President Hafez Assad.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a 34-day war last summer.

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