The Knesset Home Committee on Monday held a rare debate over whether or not to impeach Hadash-Ta’al MK Ofer Cassif from the Knesset. The debate is scheduled to continue today, and will then be held to a vote.
MK Ofer Cassif (left) attends the House committee meeting hearing on his possible impeachment, Monday, January 29, 2024 (Footage: Knesset Channel)
Committee chairman, Likud MK Ofir Katz, convened the debate after a petition spearheaded by far-right Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer received 85 signatures, above the necessary 70 signatures, including over 10 from the opposition parties Yisrael Beytenu and Yesh Atid.
Knesset Legal Advisor Sagit Afek stressed at the beginning of the debate that Cassif could only be impeached for actions committed during the current Knesset, and not past actions or statements. In addition, Afek stressed that in order to be impeached, there must be “clear and sharp” evidence that Cassif “actively supported” armed struggle against Israel. Afek added that the nature of the discussion was judiciary, and therefore the committee members had to be impartial and not take into account political considerations. The move to expel Cassif is “quite unprecedented,” Afik stated,
Adv. Michael Sfard, MK Cassif’s representative: “There may be things that your plural perceives as despicable, dangerous and improper, but they are not a cause for removal from office. The only cause is support for the armed struggle of Hamas, because that is what lies before you. That is the accusation, and all the rest is color. On this matter, the request and the body of evidence is neither borderline nor in the gray area. The evidence is in another galaxy, on another planet.
“This is an easy case. You do not have the possibility to reach the conclusion that MK Cassif supports armed struggle and that this is a dominant characteristic of his activity, and that there is no doubt that this is the case.
“I listened to all the arguments of South Africa’s lawsuit, and MK Cassif’s statements were not mentioned. Those who were mentioned were 14 Members of Knesset in this House who, as far as South Africa and its representatives were concerned, helped their case. On November 1, 2022, the citizens went out to vote, and over 178,000 people voted for the list in which MK Cassif is included, and expressed the position that they want him to be their representative in the legislature. This is a dramatic proceeding, because if MK Forer’s request is accepted, then their request, their will and choice will be annulled. Therefore, the harm—not only to the right to be elected, but to the right to elect our representatives—is severer and graver harm than in cases in which a representative is disqualified, but they can still choose among those who were not disqualified.
“There is no case to answer here, [the case] is falling apart. This should have been stopped, and the witch-hunt should have been prevented. I understand that it’s not easy to prevent the request of 85 Members of Knesset […] but your job is to prevent the removal of an MK from office due to such an event. Whoever cares about the justice system and its stability—when it is clear that we will see another round of criticism of the court—cannot cooperate with this decision, which the court will have to strike down. Don’t make a mockery of this proceeding and of 178,000 voters,” said Adv. Sfard.
MK Cassif: “I have dedicated all my political and public activity to strengthening the principle of equality. I fight for values that in my opinion are correct for the entire people of Israel. Advancing peace and equality for all. I pay a price for the right to act on behalf of my beliefs. My positions can be defined as a chronic minority. I accept that I am unpopular and even hated among certain audiences. That is the price that I have to pay for my opinions and I do so wholeheartedly. I am used to being accused of baseless accusations, but the accusation included in the request for removal from office, that I support the armed struggle of Hamas against the State of Israel, is a particularly clear and blatant lie, a wild distortion that does not have a single atom of truth. Behind it is a clear and malicious intention: Political persecution, and complete exclusion of the Arab community.”
“My statements against Hamas were well presented by Adv. Sfard. All my statements were accompanied by condemnation of the criminal terrorist offensive of October 7. For this reason, the request for my removal from office is based on a lie, and trampling of the rights of those who voted for me.
“I signed the petition in question from the same values that have guided me all my political life, to prevent human suffering and to prevent harm to innocent people, and from the belief that only stopping the war and [reaching] an arrangement will secure the return of the hostages. In order to save human beings and stop the armed struggle, not to support it. Whoever says that I support the actions of Hamas is not arguing with me, but rather knowingly lying. The wording of the request [to the court] does not support Hamas’s actions, but rather the opposite.
“I warn those who are committed to democracy and the rule of law: [If] you join the call for my removal from office, it will put in motion a snowball that will end in your removal as well. In the end, the entire opposition will be identified as a traitor to the state. My unequivocal moral perception is against the massacre and any massacre or harm of innocent people,” said MK Cassif. Cassif’s lawyer, Michael Sfard, argued in response that the fact that Cassif opposed the war did not mean that he supported Hamas’s armed struggle, and to claim so would create a slippery slope.
Sfard brought many quotes from after the war began on October 7, in which Cassif denounced Hamas’s attack, calling it “satanic” and condemning the “carnage.” According to Sfard, this showed that Cassif clearly did not support Hamas, and that there were 14 MKs or ministers who were quoted by South Africa as aiding their case – all members of the coalition, not including Cassif.
Furthermore, the claim that Cassif, who belongs to the Communist Party of Israel, supported the religious fundamentalist Hamas was absurd, Sfard argued. Sfard, countered that his client’s signature on a petition in favor of the South African case was rhetoric and “not action,” noting that his client had played no part in the court’s proceedings against Israel.
Cassif argued that his signing the petition to the ICJ came out of a wish to end human suffering and pain by ending the war and bringing home the hostages, and not out of support for Hamas. He called the meeting “Orwellian,” and accused the coalition of beginning a process whose end would be the impeachment of any MK who opposed the government. “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,'” says Cassif at the hearing
Cassif said in a prior statement that he felt it was his constitutional duty to support South Africa, saying “I will not give up the struggle for our existence as a moral society. That is true patriotism, not wars of revenge and calls for destruction, not unnecessary bloodshed, and not the sacrifice of civilians and soldiers in futile wars.” “I believe only a ceasefire will bring the hostages home and prevent more death for Israelis and Palestinians. That’s why I went to protests for a ceasefire,” he said. “Only in an Orwellian world in which war is peace is it possible to say that a signature in support of the end of the war is support for terror,” he added. “There is not one atom of truth” to such claims, he added.
Sfard and Cassif’s arguments were repeatedly interrupted by far-right coalition lawmakers who stopped the debate to hurl insults at the Hadash lawmaker and his supporters. Likud MK Hanoch Milvetsky repeatedly interrupted Sfard, accusing Cassif as being an “enemy of Israel” and that the Knesset would expel all “enemies of the state.” Racist MK Limor Son Har Melech (Otzma Yehudit) engaged in a shouting match with Hadash-Ta’al MK Ahmad Tibi. “Terror supporters don’t need to sit here,” Har Melech screamed, in the latest of a series of angry interruptions by Likud and Otzma Yehudit lawmakers. “So, leave,” Tibi shouted back.
“This is a political tribunal” that “endangers the Knesset and its standing,” Tibi told The Times of Israel following the meeting. “During a period of war, if the majority demanded that the sun rise in the west, it would pass.”
In order to proceed to a vote in the Knesset plenum, at least three-quarters of the committee members must vote in favor of Cassif’s expulsion. The committee has 17 members, so 13 must support the measure for it to pass. At least 90 MKs must then support his expulsion in the plenum. If expelled, Cassif will have the right to appeal the decision to the High Court of Justice. Three months ago, Cassif was suspended from the Knesset for 45 days for anti-war remarks he made to foreign press.