Fugitive ex-MK Azmi Bishara to head new Qatari TV channel

Network to act as counterweight to Al Jazeera; Israeli politician fled in 2007 under suspicion of aiding Hezbollah

Former Israeli Arab Knesset member Azmi Bishara (photo credit: Flash90)
Former Israeli Arab Knesset member Azmi Bishara (photo credit: Flash90)

Former Balad MK Azmi Bishara, who fled Israel in 2007 following accusations that he had contacts with a foreign agent and aided an enemy during wartime, is set to head a new Qatari TV channel meant to act as a counterweight to the country’s flagship news network, Al Jazeera, amid criticisms that the latter has become “too supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Bishara, who heads the Doha-based Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies and is reportedly close to the new Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, is said to have been the driving force behind the initiative, according to a report in The National.

The new media network will be called Al Araby Television Network and will broadcast in Arabic from London.

Bishara is known to be “fairly anti-Brotherhood,” and believes that “Qatar has been too close to the Ikhwan [Brothers in Arabic] for too long,” Michael Stephens, deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies Qatar, told The National.

Qatar’s neighbors, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, consider the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization, a fact which has led to some neighborly tensions in light of Al Jazeera’s known sympathies for the movement especially during the 2011 Egyptian revolution which led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.

Three Al Jazeera journalists are currently standing trial in Egypt, charged with being part of a terrorist group and airing falsified footage intended to damage Egyptian national security.

Bishara, a former Knesset member and founder of the Israeli-Arab Balad party, has been residing in Qatar since 2007. During the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006, Bishara was investigated by police for passing information about the IDF’s preparedness to Hezbollah agents and was allegedly compensated with hundreds of thousands of shekels by the terrorist group. The ex-MK was also accused of laundering funds.

Following the initial investigation, Bishara left Israel and told police and Shin Bet investigators he would return for a third round of questioning. However, the then-MK settled permanently in Qatar, and submitted his Knesset resignation from the Israeli embassy in Cairo. According to Bishara’s website, he has received Qatari citizenship.

In March, the Dubai police chief accused the former Israeli politician of being an Israeli agent who was sent to destabilize the Persian Gulf region.

In December, Bishara was behind a high-level conference between Palestinian factions held in Qatar, in response to the current round of US-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which ended last month.

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