Israeli police on Sunday confirmed they are investigating a prominent Israeli Arab lawmaker,but suspicions are kept secret.
Israeli media outlets have been reporting at length on the alleged charges against Azmi Bishara, a fiery Communist lawmaker, with speculation ranging from treason to corruption.
Bishara has left the country, surfacing in the Arab world and Europe, harshly criticizing the Jewish state and fueling speculation about whether he intended to remain in parliament or return to Israel at all.
Bishara has provoked anger among many Jewish Israelis by openly identifying with Syria and Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas. Critics charge he has encouraged violent attacks against Israel. Bishara has denied that.
Citing a court-imposed gag order on the case, officials refused even to confirm that an investigation was in progress. But on Sunday, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld gave the first official word, saying there was indeed an inquiry against Bishara by the police international crime and investigations unit. He said the court forbade disclosing any other details, including what charges Bishara might face, until the gag order expires on April 23.
Bishara, 50, leads the National Democratic Assembly, which has three members of parliament. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, according to the parliament's Web site.
Throughout the ordeal, he has been visiting family in Jordan and speaking at conferences in Europe. His spokesman said Sunday that Bishara was currently in Bahrain and would return to Israel within a few days.
Bishara has given numerous interviews to Arab media in recent days in which he claims he was a victim of a political conspiracy, also indicating he planned to quit the parliament.
Interviewed Sunday by Al-Jazeera television, Bishara restated his intention to resign his seat in the Israeli legislature but did not say when.
In Israel, his party issued a statement denouncing what it called a "witchhunt" and "blood libel" and calling on authorities to lift the gag order and allow Bishara to clear his name. It said it was considering petitioning Israel's Supreme Court on Bishara's behalf.
Bishara has for years been a leading voice for Israel's Arab citizens, who make up about 20 percent of the population.
"The state is Jewish as long as there is a Jewish majority, but we are not ideologically Zionist. We cannot be," he said. "We are Palestinians."
He once summed up the situation of Arabs who found themselves part of Israel when it was formed in 1948 out of part of what had been British-ruled Palestine.
"We didn't come to Israel," he said. "Israel came to us."
He has come under fire for his frequent visits to Syria and Lebanon. His Jewish colleagues in parliament have frequently accused him of incitement against Israel for calling on Arabs around the world to support the Palestinians in their struggle against Israel.
Israelis were also shocked when on one of his trips to Syria, Bishara sat next to the Hezbollah leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, at a memorial service for Syria's late President Hafez Assad.