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 Thursday, 9 January, 2003, 12:42 GMT
Profile: Israel's Arab voice
Azmi Bishara and Ahmed Tibi
Bishara (left) and Tibi: Fighting for equality
Israel's top court has overturned a ban on two Arab politicians standing in this month's general election. Who are Azmi Bishara and Ahmed Tibi?

Azmi Bishara is the leader of the Arab party, the National Democratic Alliance or Balad (Homeland).

Israel claims he is a supporter of the Palestinian armed struggle and opposed to the Jewish character of the state.

Azmi Bishara
Born: 1956
Educated: Humboldt University, Berlin
Languages: Arabic, English, Hebrew, German
Other positions: Former head of philosophy, Bir Zeit University
Mr Bishara denies the charges and argues that he wants a country with equal rights of citizenship for all of its people.

He likens his campaign for the greater political rights of Israel's 20% Arab population to that of the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.

He is also an advocate of the right-of-return of Palestinians to areas which have become part of Israel. This is viewed by some Israelis as a veiled means by which Palestinians will become a majority in the country.

Mr Bishara says this process should take place gradually through cooperation between Israel and a Palestinian state.

Mr Bishara - a 46-year old Christian academic from Nazareth - has never shied away from the spotlight.

In 1999, at the head of the Jewish Arab Communist party Hadash, he became the first Israeli Arab to run for election as prime minister.

But he withdrew on the eve of the election and went on to form Balad.

It was a controversial public appearance with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Palestinian radical leaders in Syria which prompted last year's electoral ban on both him and his party.

Mr Bishara was formerly head of the philosophy department at Bir Zeit university.

Ahmed Tibi

Ahmed Tibi, 43, entered the Israeli Knesset (parliament) representing the Arab Balad party in 1999.

From that moment he became embroiled in political conflict with Israeli right wingers, angered by his relationship with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Ahmed Tibi used to be a paid advisor to Yasser Arafat
From the early 1990s until he ran for the Knesset, Mr Tibi has been a paid political adviser to Mr Arafat, even negotiating on behalf of the Palestinians during peace talks at Wye Plantation in Maryland, US, in 1998.

After entering the Knesset, he pushed hard for a role with the powerful and secretive Knesset Foreign affairs and Defence Committee, whose members are regularly given access to Israel's sensitive military, strategic and security information.

He argued that as an Israeli citizen who had been democratically elected to office, he should have the same rights as other politicians to take part on the committee.

Right-wing politicians saw it another way. They argued that Mr Tibi's relationship with Mr Arafat meant he should be excluded from participating in briefings by intelligence officials.

It was his association with the Palestinian leader, whom he first met in Tunisia in 1984, that led to the original ban on Mr Tibi participating in this month's election.

Right-wingers accused him of siding with Mr Arafat and his Palestinian Authority against Israel.

Mr Tibi was born in a small town near Tel Aviv. He speaks fluent Hebrew and is said to be an effective debater on Israel's political talk shows.


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