Gur Salomon
February 8, 2011 - 1:00am

The Israeli Knesset parliament on Tuesday voted to promote a bill that would deny pension benefits from Azmi Bishara, a former legislator suspected of assisting Hezbollah during the 2006 Lebanon war.

The Knesset House Committee approved the bill, dubbed "Bishara Law," for second and third readings. The bill is expected to be brought for a second round of voting in the Knesset plenum within weeks.

Its passing into a law would revoke the stipends and a host of perks given to current and former lawmakers who fail to appear at criminal proceedings held against them, or convicted of crimes punishable by at least 10 years imprisonment.

Bishara, an Israeli Arab who chaired the Balad party, fled the country in April 2007 following media reports that he is wanted for investigation by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).

While most details of Bishara's alleged ties with Hezbollah were not revealed, he was accused by the security establishment of having maintained a secret contact with the organization's intelligence operatives and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for serving as a front observer before and during the war in 2006.

Living in exile since fleeing Israel, Bishara tours Arab capitals, lecturing on the Arab-Israeli conflict and is occasionally invited by media outlets to comment on internal Israeli affairs.

Despite the severity of the accusations against him, Bishara has legally maintained his citizenship and full pension rights, estimated at upwards of 500,000 shekels (about 140,000 U.S. dollars) since having fled.

"We have no doubt that the bill will ultimately go into effect, " legislator Yisrael Hasson of the Kadima party, one of the initiators of the bill, told Xinhua on Tuesday.

Hasson said the bill was not formulated out of revenge, but rather is meant to end an "absurd reality" which currently enables legislators to enjoy benefits even after being implicated in a crime.

"Bishara cynically exploited the law and mocked the state's legal institutions. I don't know of any other country engaged in conflict which pays an agent of the enemy hundreds of thousands of shekels," he said.

A heated debate erupted during Tuesday's meeting of the House Committee, which voted eight to one in favor of advancing the bill.

Current chairman of the Balad party, member of Knesset Jamal Zahalka, proposed to scrap the bill, saying Bishara would forego his pension benefits by his own free will.

"You have no self-restraint... and are turning the Knesset committees into a tribunal, a field court. The law will not hurt Bishara, he isn't bothered by it," local media quoted Zahalka as saying.

Nissim Ze'ev of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party called Zahalka a "traitor and a bastard" who exploits his legislative immunity to incite against the Jewish state and harm its security.


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