The Israeli-Arab Hadash party's only Jewish candidate, Ofer Cassif, today said he believes the decision to ban him from participating in the upcoming general election is fuelled by the right-wing's desire to "eliminate" Jewish-Arab cooperation.
Speaking to MEMO, Cassif said the Central Election Committee deliberately targeted him in its decision to ban him from contesting the upcoming election on 9 April because of the potential for Jewish-Arab cooperation that his candidacy represents.
"Of course the main victims of the right-wing's policy are the Palestinian citizens of Israel," he explains, "but civil society, the media, the courts and academia are also coming under attack by the fanatic right-wing." He continued:
I think that if you look at the committee and you look at what was really going on there with open eyes, I do believe frankly that they want to literally eliminate any kind of affinity, let alone cooperation, between Jews and Arabs […] They look at it as something which is abnormal and they are afraid of it.
Cassif continued: "For them [the committee] to rule a candidate like myself, or any other Jewish member in Hadash, out of the parliamentary and broader political game is in their interest. They want to fuel hatred and fear, especially of Jews for Palestinians. For me this is the real issue, because it is of course extremely dangerous."
Cassif also revealed that yesterday's decision was likely part of a several-year-long campaign against Hadash and its joint Jewish-Palestinian membership. Cassif cited a 2015 conversation between Yisrael Beiteinu's David Rotem – at that time chair of the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee – and a Hadash member, in which Rotem said that "Yisrael Beiteinu is much more concerned with parties that exemplify Jewish-Arab cooperation and less concerned about Arab lists. We want to eliminate political cooperation between Jews and Arabs."
That Wednesday's petition against Cassif was submitted by the head of Yisrael Beiteinu and former Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, seems to add weight to Cassif's interpretation of the Wednesday's ban. Lieberman and his party have also attacked other Israeli-Arab parties, notably Balad and its prominent Knesset Member (MK) Haneen Zoabi.
Balad – which decided to run a slate with fellow Arab-Israeli party Ra'am following the break-up of the Joint List in January – was also banned by the election committee from running on 9 April. The decision went against the recommendation of Israel's Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, who earlier this week rejected the petition on the grounds that "there has not been a critical mass of evidence required to disqualify a list of candidates".
The decision to ban Cassif and Ra'am-Balad was given particular significance by the fact that, only hours earlier, the same committee had voted in favour of allowing the leader of the ultra-right-wing Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit) party, Michael Ben Ari, to run. Mandelblit had recommended that Ben Ari be banned from participating because of his racist statements against Palestinians, but the committee ignored the attorney general's advice.
Both Ben Avir and his second-in-command, Itamar Ben-Gvir, are followers of the extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was outlawed in Israel in the 1980s for incitement and racism. Kahane's ideology is notoriously associated with extremist settler Baruch Goldstein, who carried out the 1994 Ibrahimi Mosque massacre in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, slaughtering 29 Palestinian worshippers during the holy month of Ramadan.