[this essay originally appeared on Counterpunch]
On Monday March 28 the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronoth held a conference with Israeli government officials, including the President of Israel, The Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs, and Information,President of the World Jewish Congress, President of Hebrew University, Ambassador of the United States to Israel the Minister of Transportation and Road Safety, Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy, and prominent business leaders in Israel, about how to stop the BDS movement . A video of their comments (with English subtitles) below includes statements that BDS leaders are collaborating with terrorist movements and that they should be targeted by the military in such a way as to make their lives miserable.
The political harassment campaign described as sikul ezrahi memukad, euphemism for the targeted killing of a terrorist. But in this case anything that could be done under the law would be permissible, such as taking away one’s citizenship or forcing enemies into exile. Among those BDS leaders named by Israeli officials as subject to legal ’thwarting’ or extreme political harassment is the former professor, political philosopher, public intellectual, and former member of Knesset, Asmi Bishara who was forced into exile and is now living in Doha. Criminal charges against Professor Bishara for collaborating with Israel’s enemies have never been revealed or documented.
I first met Prof. Bishara in Israel in 1994 when I was an invited speaker and guest of the Israeli Anthropological Association. During those weeks I met Bishara, then Chair of Philosophy and Cultural Studies at Birzeit University and affiliate of the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem. I invited Bishara to a large conference in South Africa that I co-organized with then Prof. Wilmot James at the University of Cape Town. The conference “Democracy and Difference” was an intellectual celebration of the election of Nelson Mandela. The speakers included Jean and John Comaroff, Loic Wacquant, Brackette Williams, the late Fernando Coronil, scholars working on the democratization of Eastern Europe, and South African scholars and political and militant anti apartheid activists including Mamphele Ramphele, Albie Sachs, and Hermann Gilomee.
Azmi Bishara gave a key note on the theme of his major work on civil society and the conditions for its emergence, including the separation of state and civil society and concepts of nation, nationalism, citizenship, society and democracy. His book, Civil Society: A Critical Study was first published in 1996 and has been republished in several editions, most recently in 2012. It is primarily a philosophical, theoretical and conceptual book written by a nee-marxist, post colonialist scholar. and
I returned to Israel in the late 1990s and early 2000s to conduct research on the ethics of organ transplant and international transplant brokering that included the criminal trafficking of persons for organ removal as described in my article, Mr Tati’s Holiday and Joao’s Kidney Safari. At that time I was eager to reconnect with Azmi Bishara and to see him in action in his MP office in the Knesset. Azmi kindly made time to show me around Israel’s Parliament and to discuss a bill pending in Knesset about allowing compensation for unrelated living organ donors for Israeli patients on dialysis. The bill proposed to create a system of compensated kidney donation similar to the one that Iran has had for 25 years.
Although Bishara was not happy about the idea of paying people to donate a kidney for a fee he believed that it could be a solution for Israel that could possibly end the flourishing underground black markets in kidneys. He revealed that he had had a kidney transplant at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem where I was conducting some of my and research. He was lucky, he said, because he had several siblings and all of them wanted to donate a kidney to their brother. He was humbled by the transplant experience and he wished that family kidney donations and voluntary kidney sharing could be enhanced in Israel by honoring the living donors and by helping Jewish families to consider organ sharing with relatives which was common among Palestinian families but not among Jewish families. He was even willing to consider compensating unrelated donors withgin the borders of Israel and across the ethnic divides as a good thing. Bishara challenged and changed my way of thinking about these issues that were central to my Organs Watch project.
I cannot think of Azmi Bishara as anything other than a public scholar, a man who loves his Palestinian community and who was dedicated to making his country a better and more equitable and robust democracy. Although a scholar at heart Azmi relished his role in Knesset and was greeted warmly by many of his colleagues as we walked through the corridors on that day.
The compensated organ sharing bill did not pass. However, the man who was so motivated about getting a bill passed to make kidney transplantation more available to all Israeli patients is no enemy of the Israeli state.