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“They Want to Silence Us”: Knesset Member Ofer Cassif Faces Expulsion for Backing South Africa Genocide Case

StoryJanuary 12, 2024
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Israeli Knesset member Ofer Cassif is being threatened with expulsion from Israel’s legislature after he signed a petition supporting South Africa’s case against Israel at the International Court of Justice, accusing it of acts of genocide. Cassif says the impeachment is based on an antidemocratic law that suppresses free speech. “They want me and my friends to shut up,” he says of the government’s persecution of dissenting legislators. “We’ve been against the war from the beginning because we are against bloodshed.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue to bring you response to the two days of the International Court of Justice, the historic hearing. Yesterday, South Africa presented its case against Israel, saying what it’s engaged in in Gaza is genocide. Today, Israel defended itself and said they are simply engaging in self-defense.

We’re going to turn right now to Ronald Lamola, who is the minister of justice and correctional services of South Africa. He’s part of the South African legal delegation. He responded to what Israel said.

RONALD LAMOLA: The state of Israel today has failed to disprove South Africa’s compelling case that was presented before the court yesterday. We stand by the facts, the law and all the evidence we have submitted yesterday. And we believe, and stand very confident, that those facts, the law, still are in violation of the Genocide Convention. …

Under the Genocide Convention, nothing justify genocidal acts currently being committed by Israel. Self-defense is no answer to genocide. Nothing can ever justify genocide. There is no balancing exercise, as Israel has sought to suggest. The prohibition is absolute. It is [inaudible] rule of law. No matter what some individual within the group of Palestine in Gaza may have done, and no matter how great the threat to Israel’s citizens might be, genocidal attacks on the whole of Gaza and the whole of its population with the intent of destroying them cannot be justified at all.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Ronald Lamola, minister of justice of South Africa, speaking outside The Hague.

We end today’s show with an Israeli lawmaker who is backing South Africa’s genocide case against Israel, even as he faces expulsion from the Israeli Knesset. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz is reporting 70 lawmakers in the Knesset have signed a motion to expel Ofer Cassif from the legislative body, after he signed a petition supporting the case against Israel at the International Court of Justice.

Ofer Cassif is a Jewish lawmaker for the Arab-Jewish Hadash-Ta’al coalition. He denounced the move to expel him, pointing out no action has been taken against lawmakers who have called for the complete destruction of Gaza or backed the removal of all Palestinians from Gaza. He has also been critical of the potential criminal negligence of the Israeli government on October 7th, he says.

Ofer Cassif, welcome back to Democracy Now! Thank you for joining us from Jerusalem. Can you talk about what’s happening to you in the Israeli Knesset, where you serve?

OFER CASSIF: Yeah, sure. Thanks for having me.

And it’s very important for me, first of all, to emphasize that I am not against Israel or anti-Israeli. I’m against the government of Israel, because the government of Israel is at the moment the most dangerous to the Israeli society and to the Israelis. So my signature in support of this South African appeal to the ICJ is not against Israel. It’s for Israel and against the Israeli government and its policies. I have been saying that.

First of all, already 85 members of the Knesset signed on this. Allow me just very, very briefly to explain the process of expulsion, of impeachment of members of the Knesset. It is based on a law that was enacted on 2016, which is an undemocratic law because, of course, it allows tyranny of the majority. It allows the majority to persecute and suppress not only the freedom of speech, but the very existence of a member of the Knesset as such that belongs to the minority, and one’s, you know, ideas are not exactly acceptable, popular.

Now, the process of impeachment goes as follows. There’s a need of a minimum of 70 members of the Knesset, out of 120, to sign a motion that requests to expel a member of the Knesset. Then, if there is that number, if that number is achieved, it goes to the Knesset committee in which 75% of the members are needed to vote for the impeachment in order to go through to the assembly. And once it goes to the assembly, of 90 out of 120 vote for it, then the member of the Knesset after 14 days is expelled, with the option, of course, to appeal to the Supreme Court.

And we are now on between the first and the second stage. Eighty-five signatures were already collected. And not in the coming week, the week after, next Monday, 22nd of January, I’m about to face the Knesset committee towards my impeachment.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about their arguments, what — some have said your support for the South Africa case indirectly aligns with goals of Hamas and the attack on October 7th. There were allegations by the Israeli members in The Hague today that South Africa is serving as the political wing of Hamas. Your response to all of this, and what it means to you to talk as a Jewish member, an Israeli member of Knesset, being critical of the Israeli government and what they’re doing right now and Gaza, calling it a genocide?

OFER CASSIF: First of all, I’m very proud of my views and beliefs and of my friends’ and comrades’ views and beliefs and our activities, because we are the only ones who totally reject any kind of violence. Accusing us in supporting, implicitly or otherwise, the terrible carnage committed by Hamas on 7th of October is not only a sheer lie — that they are aware of — but it is also incitement, because they know perfectly well — I, personally, and my colleagues, we published time and again in the last 100 days since the massacre committed by Hamas took place, we published everywhere — I think that I said that to you also in one of our former interviews — that we are totally against, we totally condemn the terrible crime against humanity and war crime, this massacre, and the atrocities committed by Hamas. We are totally against it. Accusing me in supporting it, one way or another, this is a sheer lie, incitement, that has nothing to do with reality.

But they want to silent us. They want me and my friends to shut up. They don’t want us to raise our voice against any kind of violence, because, as I said a million times, as someone who continuously for years object and oppose the Israeli occupation and siege against the Palestinian people, we said, I said, explicitly, that even the crimes of the siege and the occupation cannot and will never justify the massacre committed by Hamas. We added that the massacre, the criminal massacre by Hamas, cannot justify the massacre and assault of Israel on Gaza, in which around 30,000 people are already dead, were killed. The vast majority, more than 70%, are innocent civilians, around 10,000 children.

So, raising voice against those things, supporting investigation of those things — and please bear in mind that in the petition that I signed on, there’s no categorical statement, let alone by me, that Israel is guilty in genocide. It does say that it deserves an investigation, impartial investigation. And the government of Israel, one way or another, branches of the government of Israel, cannot pursue an impartial investigation. It’s as if we were asking a thief to investigate oneself if it did steal something or not. That doesn’t make any sense. That’s one of the main things in supporting the appeal by South Africa: to investigate.

On top of that, we’ve been against the war from the beginning because we are against bloodshed. We know that the bloodshed and the terrible assault on Gaza, apart from being in itself criminal and deadly, by definition, it won’t bring security to no one, especially not to the Israelis. We want the bloodshed to stop. We want the war to end for the sake of lives of Palestinians and Israelis alike.

AMY GOODMAN: Ofer Cassif —

OFER CASSIF: The thousands and thousands of Palestinians — just one sentence, please. It’s not only the vast — the so many Palestinians, thousands of Palestinians, who are killed. Israeli soldiers are killed. The hostages are at risk, because the government doesn’t do anything to release them.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there, because our show is ending.

OFER CASSIF: This appeal can help them.

AMY GOODMAN: Ofer Cassif, Jewish member of the Israeli Knesset, facing expulsion.

That does it for our show. A deeply fond farewell to our video fellow Sonyi Lopez. You will remain in our hearts and our DNA, Democracy Now! alumni. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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