PETAH TIKVA, Israel - Ending months of secrecy, Israeli police yesterday disclosed explosive accusations of espionage and treason against a former Arab Israeli lawmaker who has fled the country - a case that has fueled suspicions between Israel's Jews and its Arabs.
Police said that while Israel and Hezbollah battled each other last summer, Azmi Bishara, a member of Israel's parliament, advised the radical Shiite group. They said he passed on sensitive information and suggested ways of causing more harm to Israel.
Bishara left Israel a month ago after being grilled twice by investigators, and later resigned his parliament seat. Police said he would be arrested immediately if he returned to Israel.
In an interview from Amman, Jordan, Bishara said yesterday that he was a victim of political persecution. "It is very clear they have a plot," he said.
Bishara has pledged to come back to face his accusers but did not say when he would return to Israel.
Many Arabs see Bishara's case as a worrying sign of political persecution. For Israeli Jews, the charges have brought to the surface long-standing concerns that the country's Arabs are disloyal to the state.
Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel's population, do not identify with the state's Jewish character, and have long lagged behind Jews in government funding, employment, and standard of living.
Bishara, 50, a Christian from Nazareth, has antagonized many Jewish Israelis in the past by cultivating ties with some of Israel's staunchest enemies, including the leaders of Syria and Hezbollah.
A gag order in effect for months was finally lifted yesterday, revealing the first concrete details of the investigation.
Under Israeli law, the crime of treason is punishable by life imprisonment or even death. But Israel has carried out its death penalty only once.