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Israelis opposing war receiving 'death threats,' says Knesset member Ofer Cassif

January 20, 2024 at 4:53 pm

Lawmaker from the Arab-majority Hadas-Ta’al party and a Knesset member, Ofer Cassif speaks during an exclusive interview in his office in West Jerusalem on January 12, 2024. [Arif Kayacan – Anadolu Agency]

Firebrand Israeli lawmaker Ofer Cassif, who has been criticized for backing South Africa’s genocide case against Israel, says “there is an assault going on” against those who are opposing Tel Aviv’s military campaign in Gaza.

The vocal politician from the left-wing, Arab-majority Hadash-Ta’al party, was suspended from the Knesset for 45 days for criticizing the war that began after the Oct. 7 cross-border offensive by Hamas.

The Palestinian death toll from Israel’s more than 100-day bombardment of the Gaza Strip has crossed 24,000 people, most of them women and children.

The initial Hamas attack is said to have killed 1,200 people, and around 240 hostages were taken, some of whom were released during a week-long truce in November.

In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with Anadolu, Cassif said rejection of Israel’s military response has led to “an assault on freedom of speech,” including death threats.

“People are arrested for tweets and posts, not in support of Hamas, of course, but in supporting ending the war, or before even cease-fire. Students are suspended from the universities and colleges. People are fired from their workplaces. The police are brutally violent towards the demonstrators,” Cassif said.

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“There is an assault on freedom of speech of those who raise voice against the war … there are death threats. Because it’s not only violence from above, from the government from the prime minister, legitimization of the violence against the protesters, of course by [Itamar] Ben Gvir (national security minister) and the police, which unfortunately mostly became a kind of a private militia of Ben Gvir. But it also penetrates the society as a whole. And you can see that within the society, a growing a part of the public supports, literally and explicitly, violence against those who oppose the war, including death threats.”

‘Region will explode’ if Netanyahu doesn’t go

Cassif said everyone will pay a “huge price” and the entire “region is going to explode” if Israel does not get rid of the “terrible government” headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to him, the only way to stop the catastrophe from happening is by stopping the war, exchange of prisoners and release of all hostages, withdrawal of Israeli military from Gaza, and the beginning of serious peace process.

“This government should go home, if not to prison” as it has caused a lot of damage to both Israelis and Palestinians, he said. “The only way to live, to have a future, to prosper, is this. No war.”

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Israeli contradictions

He also highlighted the contradiction in statements of Israeli authorities over the assault on the blockaded enclave, who on one hand say they never intentionally target civilians, but at the same argue there is no innocent in Gaza.

“A minister said ‘… dropping an atomic bomb on Gaza is an option.’ Another member of the Knesset, although a backbencher, said Gaza be eliminated. He used this term eliminated. Netanyahu himself, the prime minister, said Gaza is like Amalek. Amalek is like a codename, a biblical codename, of a group that deserves extermination.

“The president of Israel, who is supposed to be objective and beyond politics, signed a bomb, before it was sent to Gaza. And he also said that there aren’t any innocent people in Gaza. This is only the tip of the iceberg. So how can you say that you do not target civilians, innocent civilians, and at the same time, you say they aren’t innocent civilians. This contradiction shows exactly how this government behaves, what is the policy of this government, and I emphasize this is against Israel too.”

‘What’s going on in Gaza must be investigated by impartial body’

Cassif said he did not want to claim that the Israeli government is pursuing a genocidal policy in the Gaza Strip, arguing: “The legal definition of genocide is one that I leave experts to analyze.”

But, he added, there are two main reasons for him supporting the genocide case in The Hague: conducting an impartial investigation on Gaza bombing, and to save lives.

“What’s going on in Gaza must be investigated by an impartial body. I do not trust the government of Israel or any branch or proxy of the Israeli government to investigate itself … It’s like asking a thief to investigate oneself whether he or she stole something. It doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

“This terrible assaults on Gaza is costing the lives of thousands of thousands of Palestinians, and hundreds of Israeli soldiers and Israeli hostages. They (Israeli hostages) are held in terrible conditions by Hamas in Gaza. I want the lives to be saved.”

But that cannot be done just through protests in Israel, he added.

“We cannot demonstrate, we cannot raise our voice. We are limited. There is a dictatorship now here, practically. What’s left is to look for a refuge in international organizations. So that’s the main reason why I think we should have supported the appeal of South Africa.”

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Interests of Palestinians and Israelis ‘not contradictory’

“The interests of Israel, and the interests of Palestinians, as far as I see, are not contradictory. I think it’s in common interest of both the Palestinians and the Israelis to seek peace and to end the war,” Cassif said.

The Israeli government, he said, “totally neglected” the hostages. “The government doesn’t do anything to save the hostages. And everybody knows the only way to save the hostages, who are dying there, is by ending the war.”

The parliamentarian claimed 47% of the Israeli public, according to polls, supports ending the war in order to rescue the captives. “I agree with this specific point. I do hope the ICJ will ensure a decision that will end the war.”

Israeli press ‘betrayed’ profession

Asked why Israeli army does not allow journalists to enter Gaza, Cassif said: “Perhaps they have something to hide … Normally when you don’t allow someone to get into somewhere. It’s because you don’t want someone to see something.”

About press freedom in Israel, Cassif said there have been situations where authorities “mobilize,” or force the media to “publish something and not to publish something else,” but now a vast majority of journalists are “voluntarily” supporting the policy of the government.

“You can say, there are not many limitations on freedom of the press, but the press itself, most of them, choose not to act freely … this is disgraceful, it’s unprofessional, and it will be remembered once this terrible era is ended and finished. It will be remembered that they betrayed the profession.”

‘They want to silence us’

Commenting over a lawmaker’s efforts to get him expelled from the 120-member Knesset, Cassif said “they want to silence” and “don’t want our voice to be heard … the voices against the war. This is the part of the persecution and silencing of the people who support peace and go against violence and war.”

The opposition lawmaker said he believed the efforts against him will succeed, but he will approach the Supreme Court to get relief as “there is no legal basis.”

“According to the law, a member of Knesset can be expelled only if one supports racism, terrorism, or armed struggle against Israel. Neither of those is relevant to me. I’m against racism, I’m against terrorism. I am against armed struggle against Israel.”

He said the claim is based on political reasons. “The world should understand that the assault on Gaza, and the silencing of peace lovers and the democrats in Israel are two sides of the same coin. They continue with a coup they began before Oct. 7 by other means.”