One Israeli civil rights group called the move an "act of McCarthyism and gagging, which severely harms freedom of expression, the right to vote, and be elected."
Ofer Cassif at a talk in 2023 -- via screenshot
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
Members of an Israeli Knesset committee on Tuesday took a key step toward expelling Hadash-Ta'al MK Ofer Cassif over his support for the South African-led International Court of Justice case accusing Israel of genocide in the Gaza Strip.
After two days of debate that, according to The Times of Israel, "repeatedly descended into screaming matches between legislators," the Knesset House Committee voted 14-2 to advance Cassif's impeachment to the full parliament.
"The nearly unanimous decision was immediately condemned by Hadash-Ta'al Chairman Ahmad Tibi, who called it 'a black day for the Knesset,' and by the Labor party, which dismissed the entire process as 'anti-democratic by nature,'" the newspaper noted.
Tibi and Ra'am MK Walid Taha were the two Israeli Arab legislators on the panel who voted against advancing Cassif's impeachment while, as The Jerusalem Post reported, "Yesh Atid MK Merav Ben-Ari left the committee and did not vote."
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said that the debate "was conducted like a political circus, whose outcome was determined by populist political considerations," and called the committee vote "a shameful act of McCarthyism and gagging, which severely harms freedom of expression, the right to vote, and be elected."
"We cannot accept the argument that opposing the fighting in Gaza and demanding an end to violations of international law is tantamount to supporting Hamas' massacres against Israel," ACRI continued. "This is a dangerous position that will lead to a fatal blow to the freedom of expression of elected officials and citizens, and is a slippery slope."
The development also garnered fierce condemnation beyond Israel, with the Peace & Justice Project, founded by British Member of Parliament Jeremy Corbyn, asserting on social media that "this deplorable move by Israel’s political establishment seeks to silence Israeli Jews calling for an end to the destruction of Gaza."
Former Greek politician and economist Yanis Varoufakis declared, "Let there be no doubt anymore that Israel's political class is not even pretending to respect the democratic rights of Israeli Jews who oppose apartheid."
Cassif, the sole Jewish member of the Arab-majority Hadash-Ta'al, had signed a petition backing the case before the ICJ, which ruled last week that it is plausible Israel's actions in the besieged Palestinian enclave could amount to genocide.
Specifically, the petition said: "Israel is indeed taking methodological and fundamental steps to erase, starve, abuse, and expel the population of Gaza. It actualizes a policy of erasing possibilities of living, which leads to genocide. It methodologically kills broad swaths of population, leading academics, authors, doctors, medical teams, journalists, and simple citizens."
Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer called signing the petition "treasonous" and is leading the effort to expel Cassif, claiming that he "supported armed struggle, by an enemy state or terrorist organization, against the state of Israel."
Forer is relying on a never-before-used legal mechanism in the 2016 Suspension Law. Launching the impeachment proceedings required signatures from 70 of the Knesset's 120 members, including at least 10 from the opposition. Ultimately, 85 signed on, well over the initial threshold but still under the 90 legislators needed to suspend Cassif.
Now that the House Committee has weighed in, a final vote will be held—though is not yet scheduled. If Cassif is expelled, he can appeal the decision to Israel's Supreme Court, and positions from key Israeli legal experts suggest he would have a strong case.
During the Knesset panel hearing, Cassif and his lawyer, Michael Sfard, argued that opposing the war does not mean he supports Hamas, which governs Gaza and led the October 7 attack that led to Israel's blockade and bombardment of the enclave.
According to the Post:
Sfard explained that the law requires that impeachment can only be held regarding actions committed during the current Knesset—as voters were aware of Cassif's actions prior to the election and still voted for him. Any proof that included prior actions were therefore irrelevant, he added.
Both Deputy Attorney General Avital Sompolinski and Knesset Legal Adviser Sagit Afek, the legal experts required by law to give their opinion, accepted Sfard's argument that Cassif's signing the petition did not meet the standard of "support of armed struggle" and, therefore, did not qualify as a reason for impeachment.
"While those who call for the destruction of Gaza by fire or atomic bomb sit around the Cabinet table, I face impeachment on the baseless charge of 'supporting an armed struggle,'" said Cassif, calling out recent remarks from others in the Israeli government.
Jessica Corbett is a senior editor and staff writer for Common Dreams.
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