The Supreme Court convened on Wednesday, March 13, to hear the appeal by communist candidate Dr. Ofer Cassif from the Hadash-Ta’al list, who was disqualified last week by the Central Elections Committee from participating in the general elections for the Knesset to be held of April 9.
The committee, which is composed of Knesset lawmakers and is chaired by a Supreme Court justice, decided last week in a vote of 15-10 with three abstentions and a number of members absent, to prohibit Cassif, a lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, from running in next month’s election. This decision was counter to the opinion of Israel’s Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, who contended that past provocative statements by Cassif were not grounds for his disqualification.
The petition against Cassif, which was submitted by the far-right Yisrael Betenu party of Avigdor Lieberman, cited statements in which the leftist academician called Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked “neo-Nazi scum”; compared the Israel military to that of the Nazi regime in Germany; voiced support for canceling Israel’s Law of Return and replacing its national anthem; and said that Israel was carrying out a “creeping genocide” of the Palestinians.
Former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman was present in Wednesday’s hearing. Hadash MK Aida Touma-Sliman reacted to Lieberman’s presence in the court saying “Apparently [his party’s] sinking below the electoral threshold frees him from dealing with everyday matters. Ofer’s [editor: Cassif’s] clear voice will continue to cause racists to lose sleep and echo deeply inside their heads.”
Attorney Hassan Jabareen, the director of Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said in court that Nazi and fascist comparisons were metaphors stemming from Cassif’s area of expertise as a political scientist. “There is no justification for disqualifying me,” Cassif told reporters immediately after the hearing. “That’s what the attorney general has said from the start, and that’s what we have heard from several judges and my attorneys. The arguments against me were refuted in this hearing.” Cassif said that the Central Elections Committee decision was based on “purely political reasons.”
Standing alongside Dr. Cassif, MK Ayman Odeh, who leads the Hadash-Ta’al list, said the disqualification was an attempt to “silence those who oppose a discriminatory and racist regime.”
In addition, racist and Kahanist Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has been the target of attempts to ban his party from the Knesset, petitioned the Supreme Court on Wednesday to disqualify the entire Hadash-Ta’al list from running in the elections. Ben-Gvir, charged that Hadash leader and Joint List chairman MK Odeh should not be allowed in the Knesset after he refused to condemn the attacking of occupation forces in an interview with Israel Radio.
Thursday’s editorial in Haaretz entitled “Yes to Cassif, No to the Kahanists,” wrote: “The struggle for full civic equality, even if Israeli Zionists finds it uncomfortable, is a legitimate political struggle that should take place within the legislature. By contrast, the racism of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s followers is not legitimate. One must reject any effort to achieve symmetry or draw a comparison between ‘the extremists on both sides’ — between Cassif, who champions equality, opposes the occupation and calls for Jewish-Arab cooperation, and the Kahanists, who reject democratic values, hate Arabs and favor their expulsion, at best.”
The Supreme Court is due to announce its decision regarding Cassif’s appeal on next Sunday, March 17.