Speaking before students at IDC-Herzliya, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman warned Monday against electing MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud/Beytenu) as president and reminded his audience that Rivlin did not behave as expected when it came to sanctions against an MK-turned-traitor, Azmi Bishara.
"I always try to be clear,” Liberman said. “I do not run away from reality and I provide answers. I made clear that I would not vote for Rivlin. I did not support him when he ran against Peres. I told him that I would not support him, even if he was the favorite.
"I explained to Ruby [Rivlin's nickname, ed.] why this is unacceptable for me. It is important to always stand up for one's principles,” he added, and then let the cat out of the bag: “Rivlin vehemently opposed stripping rights from Azmi Bishara – maybe he knew that he would need the Arabs' votes for the presidency... I hope things go back to normalcy.”
Rivlin, who for decades was seen as a staunch nationalist, and who fought the 2005 Disengagement from Gaza, did indeed back continuing pension payments to former Israeli Arab Knesset Member Azmi Bishara, who fled the country to avoid facing charges of treason.
Bishara allegedly received several hundred thousand dollars from Hizbullah in exchange for delivering intelligence information in real time, during the 2006 Second Lebanon War. He was also in touch with intelligence agents from other unnamed countries.
The former Arab Balad party MK was to be charged with aiding the enemy in wartime, transmitting information to the enemy, contacting a foreign agent and money laundering.
MK Rivlin argued in 2008 that Bishara is innocent until proven guilty and that revoking the pensions payments would "harm the foundations of democracy in the deeper sense of the word." Legislators had introduced several bills calling for the revocation of monthly payments to Bishara, who fled to Qatar. Rivlin's position was widely interpreted as an attempt to curry favor with radical Arab MKs, in the expectation that they would support him in his future quest for the presidency.
It took the Knesset three more years to stop the payments to Bishara. The Bishara Law determined that MKs who refuse to appear for interrogation in cases where they are suspected for felonies will lose salary and other benefits. Until a special act by the Knesset, Bishara collected his full pension, after he fled the country in 2007. Bishara had collected over NIS 500,000 in pension money and benefits after his flight.