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Azmi Bishara


Azmi Bishara (born Nazareth, 22 July 1956) is a Palestinian intellectual, academic, political writer and writer. He holds a PhD in philosophy, and he is currently the General Director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies and a member of its Executive Board. A prominent researcher and writer, Bishara has published numerous books and academic papers in political thought, social theory, and philosophy, in addition to several literary works. Arab Research and Policy Studies. Azmi Bishara is the recipient of the Ibn Rushd Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2002 and the Global Exchange Human Rights Award in 2003.

Azmi Bishara is particualarly known for his prolific intellectual work and his research in the fields of civil society, the theories of nationalism and what he called "the Arab question", religion and secularism, his work in renewing Arab thought, his analysis of society and the state in Israel; Second, the war on Lebanon and the aggression on Gaza, during the Arab revolutions in 2011 and 2012, as well as in the theorization of the democratic transformation and citizenship rights. He uses philosophy in his research and analytical approach to the disciplines of social sciences, in dealing with the complex issues he addresses in his books, such as freedom, justice, religion, mythology, secularism, state, nationalism, nation, civil society and others.

His political career began as the founder of the Qatar Committee for Arab Secondary Students, which was elected its president at the First Arab Secondary Students' Conference on April 6, 1974. He also became a prominent leader of the Arab student movement in Israeli universities. He was elected to the Knesset for the first time in 1996 and succeeded in four consecutive parliamentary elections. He remained a member of parliament until he left exile and resigned in 2007. Bishara is one of the most prominent anti-Zionist and anti-Israeli policy critics. He is the first to call it an apartheid state ) And considered "a state for all its citizens" in return for the "Jewish state". She may receive the Ibn Rushd Prize for Free Thought in 2002 and receive the Human Rights Award from Global Exchange in 2003.

Azmi Bishara currently lives in Qatar after his departure from Palestine in 2007 and travels to several countries. He currently manages the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, which he founded in 2010, and chairs the Board of Trustees of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies. Azmi Bishara announced his retirement from direct political work at the beginning of 2017 with the aim of "full-time research, writing and intellectual production." And was subjected to attacks from the Arab regimes and some of its media to accuse him of playing an important role during the Arab Spring, and to stand in the ranks of the Arab peoples against their regimes.

Intellectual Contributions 

Civil society:

In his books and lectures, Azmi Bishara discusses the development of the concept of civil society (ie, the process of its evolution and historical change) by reviewing the history of Western political thought, and the social developments that are related to differentiation within society and between society and the state. Trying to dismantle the popular consumption of this concept in the Arab cultural and political milieu, which has been dealt with ready outside the context of its European development.

In his book Civil Society: A Critical Study, Bishara reintroduced the concept of the term "philosophical" in the beginnings of modernity before the normative dimension attributed to it became apparent after the collapse of the socialist camp. He pointed out that he meant organized society in political thought when it was opposed to natural society. When it became compatible with the state, when bourgeois society, based on a market economy, became distinct from the state, it was used to describe the space of rational communication independent of market laws and state violence And finally, after we arrived distorted to indicate all that is not a state in the eyes of some trends of Arab romantic thinking in the beautification of society and demonization of the state, or make the same, which deprived him of his monetary and democratic function and make it identical to non-governmental organizations on the one hand, J On the other hand, because it is not a "state" and by.

At the end of this book, in presenting civil society as a nation abroad and as a civil society vis-à-vis the interior, Azmi Bishara also made a theoretical contribution to the question of nationalism, distinguishing between ethnic or cultural nationalism on the one hand and the political nation on the other, (Ie the separation between the nation and the nation). This idea was later developed in his book The National Question.
Contribution to the Theory of Nationalism

Azmi Bishara focuses on the idea of ​​Arab nationalism as a cultural identity corresponding to sectarianism, family and others, but after linking them to democracy and citizenship. It is supposed to move to the concept of the "national nation" even if the nation is formed from a certain nationality. Bishara rejects the adoption of nationalism as an ideology in all its positions, seminars and writings, thus contributing to the concept of nationalism in general and Arab nationalism in particular. He is considered one of the most prominent Arab thinkers of democracy and freedom. According to Bishara, nationalism is "not ideological but politicized belonging to a cultural identity that is a university that maintains an imagined society." Azmi Bishara believes that nationalism is not a group, party or race. It differs from ethnicity in giving it a political dimension that aspires to sovereignty. To which the individual belongs freely. "


Zionism was one of the main areas in the intellectual effort of Azmi Bishara, and his analysis of Zionism was quoted in several books, publications and commentaries. Since early age, he has opposed the Zionist project in all aspects. He has stood up to the Judaization of educational curricula in the Palestinian homeland, as well as attempts by Israeli governments to integrate Arabs into the Israeli society[1]. The fight against Zionism was one of the main reasons for his candidacy for the Israeli Knesset, as well as his candidacy for the post of prime minister, where he aimed to challenge the Zionist nature of Israel and the Israelization of the Arabs within the occupied territory. [16]

In his reference book "Zionism from the Jewish State to Sharon"[2] Bishara analyzed the structure of Jewish "democracy" to its elements, following two main points, namely the congruence between the concept of nation and religion in Zionism, and security and militarization since the beginning of agricultural settlement. He also addressed multiple aspects, such as nation building through the army, compulsory recruitment, building the economy and the prevailing official ideology[3]. In his book, Bishara also demonstrates several contradictions that exist in Jewish democracy, other than the main contradiction with the Palestinian and the Arab peoples. Most important among these problems is the contradiction between citizenship and the Jewishness of the state, which means that Israel, according to its self-ascribed vision and definition, represents many people who are not citizens of the state as "the state of the Jews", while not representing a large part of its citizens, the Arab citizens, the country's indigenous people.

Secularism and Religion

 In his book "Religion and Secularism in a Historical Context", he presented his thought on religion and secularism[4].

Bishara presented a theory in secularism and secularization, after criticizing previous theories. He was preoccupied with the issue of obstacles that hinder democratic transformation. He referred to this issue in his book "On The Arab Question" in which he pointed out the relationship between the non-resolution of the Arab issue and the impediment to democratic transition, as Arabism turned into the ideology of state on the one hand, or a pretext for intervening in the affairs of other countries on the other[5]. This preoccupation led him to criticize the study of the relationship between Islam and democracy, which spread at the end of the last century, in a study published in several languages ​​confirming the absence of a meaningful relationship between religion and democracy. He called for a discussion of the relationship between "democracy and patterns of religiosity, rather than the pointless search on Islam and democracy". He began to study this subject, when he found himself[6] compelled to study patterns of secularization which in his opinion defined patterns of religiosity to a large extent.

 Bishara put his intellectual and philosophical ideas on secularism in his extensive research project "Religion and Secularism in a Historical Context", a cumulative knowledge project that began a decade and a half ago and has now been published in three volumes. Bishara suggests a different formula for dealing with dualisms such as religion and secularism. He sees that the problem of research is not in religion (as a religion in itself), but in "patterns of religiosity". He distinguished between religion and religiosity[7]. Bishara describes religion as "a natural and complicated progress in the experience of the sacred", meaning being affected by beauty, in awe of the mysterious, and fear of nature. Religion in this sense is not just the experience of the sacred, it is, above all, a group of human beings with common faith, religious establishment, worship, rituals and rites...etc. To explain the difference between religion and patterns of religiosity, Bishara showed the similarities and differences between religion and myth, between religion and magic, between religion and morality and other topics, and thus turned the introduction of the book into a self-contained folder that generally addresses religion and religiosity, and analyzes the relationship between religion and myth, religion and morality, religion and science before reaching a definition of religion and religiosity, which is considered as a secular effort.

 In the second part, he deals with the history of the evolution of the secular idea in the first volume by reviewing the history of ideas in Europe[8], since the emergence of the term within religious thought until secularism became a separate ideology. He followed this development through the development of rationality and the scientific approach to nature and society on the one hand, and the development of the concept of state on the other.

 After studying the evolution of secularism in thought, the second volume of the second part discusses the theories of secularization, which are sociological theories, introducing his vision of secularization as a process of continuous differentiation between elements of the sacred and secular in thought and society, between religion and politics, private space and public space. He concludes that the longing for the sacred is inseparable from humans, and remains in the fields and activities of humanity, such as art, literature and other activities, as well as in worldly ideologies separated from religion, but continued to secularize the terms of religion and its ritual practices in the sanctification of secular values, such as the state, the people, the homeland, the party, etc. Finally, Bishara moves on to an important part of his research: examining the models of secularization of politics and the state applied in Europe (France, Germany, Poland, Britain), the United States and others, showing the relationship between secularism (one that is hardline anti-religion, and another that is soft, tolerant towards religious practices) and the type of democracy in each country. He criticized trying to impose or import a particular model as the only possible secular model. He presents a model of secularization theory at the end of the book, in an attempt that is the only one of its kind. Azmi Bishara promised in his book that the last part will deal with the model of secularization in the Ottoman state and the Arab state and its consequences.

In the meantime, he published books discussing the Arab revolutions, notably his seminal book on the Egyptian revolution. He also published a small philosophical book, An Essay on Freedom, and another book, The Army and Politics, Theoretical Problems and Arab Models, to fill an important gap in the Arab library concerning this issue, theoretically and through Syrian and Egyptian models in particular.

Sect and Sectarianism

Azmi Bishara was also preoccupied with the issue of sectarianism to put together a sociological work (once again interdisciplinary) on an issue that concerns the Arab community, the issue of "sect and sectarianism." He believes that Western sociological theories do not help the researcher in this field at the Arab level. He wrote a research named "The Sect, Sectarianism, and Imaginary Sects" where he discussed the idea that sects or denominations produce sectarianism, trying to prove that in the modern era, the opposite is true, i.e., sectarianism produces the sect, but he sees that "it produces it as an imaginary sect". He therefore devotes his research effort to writing a book that places a concept of the religious community as a "local community" distinct from the followers of a certain religion which, in his opinion, is an imagined group that is not a self-contained social entity such as the local community or group, but the political sectarianism reproduces it as a group that he calls "the imaginary community"

To this end, Bishara is doing what he has done in the case of civil society and secularism, by distinguishing between the word, the term and the concept, indicating the disparities in its development and the evolution of the phenomenon itself (the religious community and the political sectarianism) in search of a concept that is a synthetic analytical tool with explanatory power. Bishara describes the political sectarianism as a modern phenomenon, manufactured by power and state, not religion[9]. He also explains the factors of political sectarianism since the colonial intervention to protect the minorities in the Ottoman Empire[10] and the conservative social response to the reforms of the Ottoman organizations due to the uneven development between the center and the periphery and the failure of the application of Ottoman citizenship through the national state and the military regimes that bet on local loyalties at the point of losing their legitimacy, including sectarian loyalties, and the most dangerous is the transformation of the majority into an imaginary political group in the context of opposing the existing regime, considered to be related to minorities.

Bishara also explains the factors of the failure nation-building on the basis of citizenship and its relationship to the sectarian issue. The book deals in detail with the transformation of Shiites and Sunnis through political sectarianism into imaginary sects, the roots of this historical process and the impact of local and regional political polarization. He also referred to the so-called theory of compatibility in democracy, indicating that it is a set of inductive generalizations, which are modified after each experiment in kind and do not live up to the theoretical level, reflecting upon the Lebanese and Irish experience, and presenting the Iraqi experience extensively.

Political Life

 Azmi Bishara began his political career in high school, where he was active in the ranks of the Communist Youth. When he was 18 years old, and in 1974, he established the National Committee of the Arab high school students, for which he was elected as president within the National Conference, by all the Arab schools in Palestine. This was on April 6, 1974. The reason behind establishing this committee was "The general national feeling among Arab students of the need to struggle against racist practices". Bishara considered it "the first Arab organization to be supported by all Arabs at his home country." Bishara remained president for two years. This committee has been advocating against the Judaization and discrimination programs that the Israeli Ministry of Education has pursued with Arab schools.

 During his university studies, Azmi Bishara was active in the Arab student movements and was considered one of its prominent figures during this period. While pursuing his studies at Haifa University, he participated in the founding of the Union of Arab University Students, which he represented in 1976 in the Committee for the Defense of Arab Lands which was declared on the Land Day, and whose purpose was to defend Arab lands against Israeli plans to confiscate Arab lands in Palestine. During that time, he was arrested twice in the demonstrations by Arab students against the Israeli right wing at universities.

Establishment of the ‘Tajamo’ Party

The National Democratic Assembly, or "at-Tajamo Party" an Arab nationalist party, was founded by Azmi Bishara and headed by him for several years.

Azmi Bishara disposed of the communist ideology early after the student movement stage and began to express his criticism of it, through the Arab democratic principles during his activity in the student movement, and totally abandoned it during his studies in Germany. In 1995 Azmi Bishara co-founded the National Democratic Assembly Party, on a democratic Arab point of view. The party brought together a number of active political patriots, bringing together the Movement for Equality, the Sons of the Country, the Progressive Peace List, university students and former members of the Communist Party and independents. Azmi Bishara was the theorist of this party and its leader from the beginning of its establishment until he resigned from it and left Palestine in 2007.

 The party stated its objectives and principles at its third conference in 1999 as: "A national Arab Palestinian national democratic party in its political ideas and objectives, and struggles for social justice. It is based on the linkage between national identity and the principles of democracy in the circumstances of the Arab masses in Israel and in Israeli society in general, by emphasizing the organization of Arab citizens as a national minority with collective rights and applying the idea of equal citizenship in the face of the Zionist idea and the socio-political system founded upon it."

In the Knesset

 Azmi Bishara decided to participate in the elections to enter the Israeli Knesset, explaining why he entered the Knesset by saying, "We decided to go to parliament to present a different model without embracing Zionism. We entered not to celebrate the Knesset membership, but to represent a line of struggle. And to present a counter Zionist discourse through the democratic discourse, which is no longer exclusive to them." In 1996, he was elected as a member of the Knesset after being nominated for a joint list between the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality and the National Democratic Assembly. He was re-elected in 1999 as a candidate for the National Democratic Assembly, re-elected in 2003, re-elected in 2006 and remained in office until he resigned in 2007 and left Palestine on suspicion of "collaborating with the enemy in times of war." He participated in these periods in a number of committees, including the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee on the Trafficking of Women, the Education Committee, the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, the State Control Committee, and headed the first committee to examine the fate of absentee funds after 1948.

His call to the state of citizens raised sharp reactions from the Zionist parties expressed in attempts to criminalize this call, which some writers, researchers and leaders of the Zionist parties considered the most dangerous call against Zionism and Israel, because it diagnoses a contradiction between democracy and Jewish statehood and escalates this contradiction, which pushed them to enact a set of laws that emphasize the Jewishness of the state. While in the Knesset, Azmi Bishara ran for prime minister in Israel when the elections were held directly. The direct elections for the premiership were later canceled. He was the first Arab to run for this position, and that was in 1999, and Bishara says he has strategic and tactical goals behind his candidacy for the presidency related to the demands of the Arabs at home. The direct political objectives are related to demands submission and negotiation, but the main long-term goal is "To challenge the Israeli Zionist nature", and to develop a path that stands in the face of "Zionization" of the Arabs of the interior, so that the Arabs would not vote for Barak or Netanyahu, who were candidates at that time, according to his point of view. However, he withdrew from the competition on the eve of the elections.

Position on the Palestine

  Azmi Bishara focuses on the character of apartheid in Zionism and on the need for a democratic Palestinian national project to confront it. He also supports the right of the Palestinian people to resist occupation. He has written lengthy studies on the dilemma of the idea of ​​a Palestinian state after the Oslo Accords, which he has opposed since it was signed as it replaced the Palestinian national rights with the rescue of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), describing the accord as "a calamity" for the national liberation movement.

 In his articles, he introduced the need to deal with Israel as a colonial settlement that established an apartheid system, which requires a national democratic program to face it. Throughout the life of Azmi Bishara, he was part of the resistance of the Zionist project, seeking a democratic and secular state based on equality. Since he was a high school student, he sought with his colleagues to combat the Judaization of educational curricula and fought against the discrimination against Arabs. At university, he lectured extensively on land expropriation, the struggle against settlement in the occupied territories, torture in Israeli prisons, defied racist calls such as Meir Kahane to lecture at the university and defended freedom of expression at the university. As for the Arab dimension of the Palestinian cause, Bishara says: "The Arabs will not be liberated unless the Palestinians are liberated, and the Palestinians will not be liberated without the Arabs being liberated."

 In 1999 he was hit by a rubber bullet while participating in a demonstration in defense of a house against the demolition order in the city of Lod. His home in Nazareth was attacked by hundreds of organized racists after he was charged with responsibility for the October 2000 demonstrations inside the occupied territories at the start of the second Palestinian uprising.

Leaving Palestine

Several attempts were made to try Bishara, remove his parliamentary immunity and prevent him from running for elections. More than once, he faced several charges aimed at restricting him. In 2001, Azmi Bishara traveled to Syria and delivered a speech that was interpreted as sympathetic to the resistance. Upon his return to Israel, Bishara was accused of supporting a terrorist organization according to Israel's definition of terrorism. In 2006, he visited Syria again with some of his party members. After that, Israeli Interior Minister Ronnie Bar-On asked the Israeli Attorney General to start an investigation with the leaders of the Tajamo Party: Azmi Bishara, Jamal Zahalka and Wassel Taha. After Bishara's first visit to Syria, the Israeli Knesset had passed a law to prevent members of the Knesset from visiting any enemy country.

  On April 6, 2007, while Bishara was traveling abroad, the press reported that an Arab Knesset member intended to resign and hinted at a hidden reason. On April 22 Azmi Bishara submitted his resignation from the Knesset. Bishara stated that he had decided not to return in the foreseeable future, to avoid being imprisoned for a long time because of his political positions in support of Arab issues and the Arab resistance.

He was charged with "helping the enemy in time of war" and the introduction of foreign funds into the country. In April 2007, Bishara spoke to thousands of his supporters in the city of Nazareth by telephone saying that "His only sin is that he is a Palestinian patriot who loves his country." The demonstrators chanted his name.

Position on the Arab revolutions

Azmi Bishara supported the Arab revolutions that swept through several countries in late 2010, starting from the duties of what he calls the "moral intellectual" to take a stand against injustice and association with the fair aspirations of people, especially the young generation that launched the Arab Spring. His recent books such as "Being Arab in Our Times" and "The Arab Issue" insisted that the task of democracy is to raise the issue of democratic governance in parallel with education on the values ​​of democracy and not wait for the spread of democratic culture. Since the end of the 1990s, the idea of ​​"citizen states" has been promoted. In many cases, it has been a reference to the change and many have relied on it to analyze the situation. He considered the first uprisings of the Arab Spring at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011 as an existential cry for freedom and dignity.

Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, Bishara has been preoccupied with a research project that is keeping pace with the revolutions. He began with the Tunisian Revolution in his book "The glorious Tunisian revolution", following the fundamental reasons that led to the Tunisian revolution and making scientific comparisons between some of the social and economic aspects that prevailed in Tunisia before the revolution, and similar circumstances in other Arab countries also candidates for the revolution. The writing was an analytical attempt to understand the structure of the Tunisian revolution and its evolution through its diaries. The book also monitors the history of the uprisings and explains the map of parties in Tunisia on the eve of the revolution. He then presents the details of the facts in the diary of the uprising, and how the events gradually evolved so that Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had to escape.

At the beginning of the Syrian revolution, Azmi Bishara was a supporter of the revolution in writing and media appearance. In his book "Syria is the Path of Pain towards Freedom: An Attempt in the Present History" (2013), he chronicled its two phases: peaceful and armed civilization, based on an analysis of the structure of the regime and the relationship between society and the state in Syria. The book deals with the mobile facts in the main cities in Syria, how the protests began peacefully and then moved to militarization and took up arms later.

Azmi Bishara accompanied the Egyptian revolution with his intellectual views, political views and analyses. He completed a series of articles and studies on the Egyptian revolution. Bishara was one of the most prominent political commentators on the events of the Egyptian revolution. He also published a huge research book on two volumes: The Egyptian Revolution. The history of the so-called Republic of July and the transfer of power in the authority from the army to the presidency and the security services, and the emergence of institutional conflict and the history of protest in Egypt, documented the revolution since 25 January until the military coup, indicating the dynamics that led to the coup in the army's ambition to rule, the conflict between the Egyptian elites before receiving power and the dismantling of the deep state, and in the lack of consistency on the democratic system and its bases before resorting to the elections.

 Retirement from Politics

 In the beginning of 2017, the book "Exiled in Exile" was published, a lengthy interview by Azmi Bishara with journalist Saqr Abu Fakhr, in which he summarized his intellectual and political biography and announced his retirement from direct political work. He said he retired "to dedicate all his time to research and intellectual production, as it is the most important, urgent and possible in these circumstances." He explained in an interview with Arab television that his decision was made two years ago, and he wants to focus only on the intellectual and research side and educate the generations as an essential task. "But I will take positions as an educated person committed to people's issues. I will not forsake my personal conscience."


Azmi Bishara is the recipient of the Ibn Rushd Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2002 and the Global Exchange Human Rights Award in 2003.